How to build a smart energy system

More and more countries, regions and cities are making energy strategies. That’s a complex planning task, especially if the goal is to be fossil-free and cost-efficient.


Anders Dyrelund

Anders Dyrelund

District Heating and Energy Planning Specialist
T: +45 5161 8766

By Michael Rothenborg, May 2017

All around the world the Paris Agreement and local climate goals are putting pressure on energy planning. Countries, regions and cities are concerned with one big question: how to get on the path to a low-carbon society in the most cost-efficient way – while also taking energy security into account.

According to experts, making energy systems smarter is alpha and omega – especially on a national scale and in cross-border regions.

“We have to move away from a sole focus on areas like the electricity sector and look at the energy demands of the heating, cooling and transport sectors as well. We have to better connect the different sources and consumption areas – in a smart energy system,” says Brian Vad Mathiesen, Professor of Energy Planning at
Aalborg University, Denmark.

The challenge is to identify where society is heading – in this case towards a lower-carbon solution. In turn this requires meticulous, long-term planning. The study recommends exploiting the already extensive district heating system as a cost-effective means of using and storing energy from electricity, rather than investing in new transmission lines to other countries.

Carbon-free cities

Also at the urban and regional levels, efficient energy management depends on there being a strategy for producing and utilising energy in place. Copenhagen has a layout that favours public transport and an extensive district heating network, so the target – to become CO2 neutral by the year 2025 – is arguably within reach if energy efficiency is improved and the share of renewables increased.

In Norway, the City of Oslo aims to halve its fossil fuel emissions by 2030 and become fossil-free by 2050 in a strategy that Ramboll has also helped to develop. Here, as elsewhere, the transition requires major investment, but investment that is cost-efficient seen over decades.


Ramboll identified significant water and energy savings for one of the world’s largest spirits distillers by conducting a series of audits at its plants in North America. Five already energy-efficient facilities could reduce their energy use by another 10% with a payback period of approximately 2.5 years. Capital project opportunities ranged from boilers, biomass projects and lighting to the increased use of waste heat and simultaneous heating and cooling generation, as well as a number of combined heat and power opportunities.

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