Energy Maps: A tool for energy efficiency and planning

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Geographic Information System (GIS) combines geographical information with layers of complementary data, facilitating the analysis and management of large volumes of data in geo-spatial format. Turned into energy maps, this data can easily become a tool to improve efficiency in energy projects.

Particularly in the energy field, GIS allows to combine technical and energy information, such as assets of renewable energy and existing or expected power consumption, along with social-economical indicators and governmental data, such as actual or estimated development of building density and the location of big energy consumers. 

The attraction of investment in new centralized energy solutions requires the accurate knowledge of the temporal and spatial distribution of energy resources, including detailed and reliable data for the candidate locations. One of the main challenges that is frequently faced during the planning and design of district energy plants is the absence of accurate assessments of energy resources. Imprecise estimations of energy resources may result in serious implications on sustainability and economic profitability of the project.

Therefore, GIS technology is widely used by companies and governmental institutions as a tool for planning and urban regulation with the aim of promoting the social perception towards new and more efficient energy solutions, encourage investment as well as facilitate and value the exploitation of energy sources.

International Experiences with energy maps

The Renewable Energy Data Explorer (RE Data Explorer), an energy map developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), represents a geospatial analysis tool for analyzing renewable energy potential. RE Data Explorer intends to support prospecting, integrated planning, policymaking and decision-making activities to accelerate renewable energy deployment.

The UAE Solar Atlas, developed by the Research Center for Renewable Energy Mapping, uses satellites images for mapping the solar potential across the country. The energy maps were used to generate hourly, daily, monthly and annually maps of the different solar irradiations.

The project Heat Roadmap Europe (HRE) and the development of the Pan-European Thermal Atlas (PETA) forms part of the long-term efforts of the European Union for the decarbonization and the efficiency increase of the European energy systems. Further details about this project are explained below.

Heat Roadmap Europe 

The Heat Roadmap Europe project is framed within the research and innovation European program Horizon 2020 and addresses the removal of market barriers for the adoption of efficient solutions of heating and cooling. The European Union and the Energy Efficiency Directive aim for decarbonizing the energy system and increase the energy efficiency.

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The project Heat Roadmap Europe geo-refers the excess and demand of heat in the European member countries with the aim of assessing the geographical zones more suitable for the implementation of district energy plants, defining, in this way, the guidelines of the heating and cooling sectors.

The study assesses the demand, sustainability and infrastructures of heating and cooling to conform the geo-referred tool Pan-European Atlas (PETA). The model is a geographical representation of the heating and cooling demands of the European member countries, including the potential excess of heat, potential networks of heat distribution and the availability of renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar or biomass energy, among others. The project analyzes the feasibility of District Energy plants by means of the annual excess of heat generated by the energy and industrial sectors. As a result, the energy map identified 63 strategic regions of energy synergy.

Therefore, the project intents to provide tangible support to the local and national authorities for defining the new energy policies and foment investment. 

Conclusions

International regulations on energy efficiency are boosting the development of new models and tools to elucidate distributions of demand and opportunities for using the heat excess, other renewable energy sources and district energy systems. Such regulatory policies are also intended to promote investing by means of optimized data analyses, providing clarity and certainty about the status of the energy sector and the required developments. 

In this way, the energy innovation is boosted by bringing together industrial, academics, governmental and social experts, both nationally and international.