04 March 2020 | updated: 29.10.2021

Many district heating networks in North Rhine-Westphalia run at high temperatures of approx. 100 °C or higher. It is not currently possible to efficiently feed renewable energy or waste heat into these networks at a low temperature. The “TransUrban.NRW” living lab for the energy transition has just been launched and aims to change that.

Coordinated by E.ON Energy Solutions, the project is converting four urban districts to a low-carbon heating and cooling supply system. TransUrban.NRW is the second living lab for the energy transition to be launched. It’s one of the 20 winners of the ideas competition that were announced by Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier in July 2019.

The goal of the project is to create a long-term replacement for the traditional district heating supply systems, which are in part based on coal, using high-temperature and steam networks in districts in Gelsenkirchen, Mönchengladbach, Herne, and Erkrath. The low-temperature networks required for this change are being built or integrated into the existing infrastructure as needed.

System temperatures reduced

Fifth generation energy systems form the basis for this project. Because these Anergy and LowEx systems operate in a temperature range of approx. 10 to 40 °C, they drastically reduce the system temperatures. This means, for example, that renewable energy from geothermal energy, waste water, and low-temperature waste heat can be integrated into the supply on a large scale. Heat pumps are used to couple the sectors together and connect the heating infrastructure to the electricity system. What’s more, the systems can be optimized to provide both heating and cooling. They allow heat to be shifted between producers and consumers: For example, buildings obtain waste heat from other buildings, computing centres, or industrial plants that have to be cooled at the same time.

Changing role of energy suppliers and consumers

In order for the transition to work, all the different producers, consumers, and networks, as well as control over them, have to be digitally connected to each other. This creates “energy platforms”, which are the result of partnerships among district heating network operators, municipal utilities, and property developers. Consumers are increasingly becoming “prosumers”: They not only demand heat, but also produce it themselves, for example using decentralized heat pumps in their buildings.

TransUrban.NRW: second living lab for the energy transition

SmartQuart, the first living lab for the energy transition, was launched early this year. Now the second such lab, TransUrban.NRW, is being launched in the field of buildings and districts research. The living labs for the energy transition are intended for trialling innovations in a real-world environment and developing blueprints for the transformation of the energy system. They put innovative technologies into application and test how they interact with each other – in concrete terms, on an industrial scale, and under real-world conditions – in a neighbourhood, a city, multiple cities, or even across multiple federal states. The practical experience gathered in this way can then be used to considerably advance the fundamental transformation of the energy system throughout Germany.