More flexibility for more renewables in grid-connected heat supply

Part of Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy?

Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy? shines a spotlight on research projects under development in the Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs). Learn more about the initiative, read the launch commentary, or explore the TCPs.

What is the aim of this project?

The aim of the ThermaFLEX project is to develop strategies and concepts for making district heating networks more flexible and more sustainable, reducing their CO2 emissions. District heating and cooling networks will play a major role in our future energy supply, serving as hubs of our energy systems. Existing infrastructure offers tremendous potential for expansion that can decarbonise the energy system. Such expansion can also improve sector coupling – especially in dense urban areas – integrating energy end-use and supply by tapping into new concepts, technologies and renewable energy sources.

To realise this vision, a joint effort by everyone involved will be needed – energy suppliers, district heating operators, technology providers, research and development institutes, and public authorities. The ThermaFLEX project has brought together 28 partners from the energy industry, researchers and technology providers to work on flexibilisation measures – identifying them, running simulations to support planning, evaluating and selecting them, as well as implementing, monitoring and optimising them. These measures and concepts are being tested and demonstrated in 10 demonstration networks in Austria to showcase their potential and learn how best to deploy them.

How would the project be explained to a high school student?

District heating systems distribute heat from a central source – like a boiler or power plant – through a network of insulated pipes to heat residential and commercial buildings. They offer huge potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Like other energy systems, however, they can be complex: they can be large and connect many different technologies, energy sources and users. Realising their potential to reduce emissions means maximising their flexibility, and that requires co-operation right from the start from everyone involved in district heating. This project, called ThermaFLEX, brings all those people together, from system operators and planners to research funders and public authorities. Together they identify problems and develop, analyse and evaluate solutions.

How does the project help to achieve climate and energy goals?

  • makes 10 large-scale demonstration networks available as showcases for sustainable and flexible district heating supply
  • develops concepts for applying technical, systemic and non-technical measures in district heating
  • provides lessons and practical experience to allow implementation to be improved elsewhere.

What government policies could advance this project?

  • imposing carbon taxes on fossil fuels, so that the polluter pays
  • providing targeted subsidies for demonstration and pilot projects
  • providing funding for sustainable market uptake and broad implementation.

ThermaFLEX – Combining technical components, systemic approaches and non-technical measures for sustainable and flexible district heating in 10 demonstration sites.

ThermaFLEX – Combining technical components, systemic approaches and non-technical measures for sustainable and flexible district heating in 10 demonstration sites. Source: AEE INTEC


AEE INTEC, Austria, leads a consortium of 28 partners from R&D, energy suppliers and district heating operators, know-how and technology providers, and public authorities.


Austrian Climate and Energy Fund

Expected project duration

November 2018-October 2022

About the DHC TCP

Created in 1983, the DHC TCP conducts research and development as well as policy analysis and international co-operation to increase the market penetration of district heating and cooling systems with low environmental impact.