dcsimg Smart energy systems for cities  - Ramboll Group

Smart energy systems for cities

As more and more people move to urban areas, energy needs increase, so the quest is on to find the most efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective means of producing energy. Luckily, the answer lies in the urban structure itself. 
In cities, people have the same energy needs at the same time, so  it makes sense to look at energy supply on a much larger scale, according to Anders Dyrelund, Senior Market Manager within Energy at Ramboll:

“The density of a city enables thermal energy to be produced and stored centrally and then distributed throughout the city via city energy grids.”

A smarter use of energy

In hot climates, the electricity grid is often stretched to the maximum in the middle of the day because every building is running its air-conditioning. But if people could cover their cooling needs with a district cooling system, rather than having to run individual air-conditioning units, they could stay cool all day and at lower cost:

“A district cooling facility could produce and store cooling in large chilled water tanks for an entire neighbourhood at night, when electricity is cheaper and easily available. This cooling could then be used during the day. Moreover, the total investment costs in cooling plants are reduced due to economy of scale,” he explains.

What is more, the space otherwise used for local cooling production – basements or rooftops, for instance – could be used for car parks or even a rooftop terrace. The same goes for cold weather climates, where the demand for heating is great. Distributing heat from centralised plants frees up urban space and increases energy efficiency – thus lowering socio-economic costs and improving the environment. Moreover, the district heating system can utilise and store for instance surplus heat from power production and industrial processes, geothermal heat, large heat pumps, large scale  solar heating and biomass boilers.

Avedøre Power Station, one of the facilities connected to the Copenhagen district heating network

Image: Avedøre Power Station, one of the facilities connected to the Copenhagen district heating network

City planning required

Introducing these centralised, large-scale energy grids requires city planning. Whenever urban developments are projected, planners can establish the basic network for district heating, which will gradually spread to the surrounding areas.

“In this instance, it’s important not to limit the focus only on the area being developed, but to prepare for future expansion,” says Anders Dyrelund.“You have to look at sustainability and energy efficiency from a socio-economic standpoint – taking into account the economic, social and environmental aspects,” he concludes. “We should develop solutions that are as smart as possible – and by smart, I don’t mean technically complicated, but as simple and cost-efficient as possible for society in general.”

20% of Denmark’s total heating requirement is covered by the integrated and optimised Greater Copenhagen district heating network, which supplies 1,000,000 people with heating.


Anders Dyrelund
Anders Dyrelund
District Heating and Energy Planning Specialist
T+45 5161 8766