Assessing the performance of 5th Generation District Heating and Cooling Systems in European Energy Contexts
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Due to the emerging awareness of climate change and its accompanying consequences, there is an increasing need for carbon-neutral energy systems. Fifth-generation district heating and cooling system (5gDHC) is a new carbon-free technology, with high potential. However, it is still in its development phase and there is no consensus among scholars about the exact definition and performance of 5gDHC. So, in order to benefit the most from this new potential energy system, more research is needed on its performance, to see whether it can replace alternative solutions. This study conducts three assessments, of which all determine one or more performances of 5gDHC. First, the technical performance of four case studies is evaluated with developed key performance indicators (KPIs). Secondly, the environmental and economic performance is determined with a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and compared with a 4gDHC and a domestic gas boiler (DGB) alternative. Lastly, the social impact is assessed with a multi-criteria analysis (MCA). The results of the KPI analysis show that the case studies score relatively well on developed KPIs. One of the main focus points is now the use of renewable thermal energy, rather than renewable electrical energy. However, future research is needed to test the KPIs on multiple other energy systems. Secondly, the CBA shows that the environmental costs of 5gDHC are substantially lower than alternative solutions. However, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of 5gDHC is much higher than the alternatives, due to a very high CAPEX. If the environmental costs and the LCOE are combined, the 5gDHC costs come closer to the alternatives but are still higher. Lastly, the MCA shows that the social impact of a 5gDHC is significantly lower than the alternative solutions. However, future quantitative research on this impact could help give a more complete answer. To conclude, the 5gDHC shows some real potential for the (near) future. Compared with alternatives it scores well on the environmental and social impact. However, from an economic point of view, the 5gDHC is currently substantially more expensive than alternatives. This makes the technology probably, without subsidies or funding, not an economically viable solution. However, 5gDHC is a new technology and costs potentially can decrease tremendously with the learning and experience curve. Furthermore, considering the rapid demand for renewable solutions for heating and cooling systems, because of climate change and the rising gas prices, 5gDHC has a large potential for being one of those solutions.