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New EU project aims to pave the way for sustainable heating and cooling solutions

Gothenburg city. Photo.
In Sweden, aquathermal energy is still quite unexplored, except for some local initiatives such as the heat pump plant, Rya Värmepumpverk, in Gothenburg. Photo: Edvin Johansson, Unsplash.

How can aquathermal energy systems support a sustainable energy transition in the European Union? This will be explored in a new EU Interreg North Sea Region project, WaterWarmth, which seeks to raise awareness about the possibilities of sustainable heating and cooling solutions based on aquathermal energy and integrate them into existing renewable energy systems across the North Sea region.

Aquathermal energy – an underexploited energy resource

Aquathermal energy is a technology that harnesses thermal energy from various water sources, including surface water, drinking water, and wastewater, through pump systems. The temperature differences in the water can be used to heat or cool buildings, either those connected to existing district heating and cooling networks, or stand-alone household or neighborhood systems.

While, a few district heating and cooling-linked systems have been developed in Stockholm and Gothenburg, the technology has yet to gain traction in Sweden, despite the abundance of water sources and well-developed district heating networks in urban areas around the country.

–  Our ambition is to explore where additional aquathermal system developments can be implemented in Sweden, says Barry Ness, Senior Lecturer at LUCSUS, and one of the project participants.

Collaboration across sectors to promote a sustainable energy transition

The WaterWarmth project unites researchers from LUCSUS with a diverse team of partners, including regional and local government bodies, academia, private companies, and interest organizations. Together, they will not only develop aquathermal system pilot projects but also study the development processes surrounding them.

The involved LUCSUS researchers, Barry Ness, Sara Brogaard, and Henner Busch will participate in several project work packages; however, their main participation will be collaborating with Delft University in the Netherlands on the topic of energy governance to promote the transition to greater aquathermal energy use in the North Sea Region. Together with the researchers from Delft University, they will collaborate to devise an analytical framework to examine largely bottom-up aquathermal system development processes, assess several existing or planned cases around the North Sea Region, as well as to coordinate and examine future visions of aquathermal energy development in the EU for coming decades.

– We are excited to collaborate with other researchers and proponents of aquathermal energy system development around the North Sea Region to both promote and understand the technology’s possibilities, says Barry Ness.

The project aims to contribute to a sustainable energy transition and the development of aquathermal energy systems in the North Sea Region, and provide a deeper understanding of the economic, social and environmental consequences of aquathermal energy development, and a fuller comprehension of the governance measures needed to stimulate a sustainable energy transition in the EU.  

Sara Brogaard, Senior Lecturer at LUCSUS, also emphasized the project's broader impact.

– We also hope that the project will create opportunities to ensure that issues of energy access and justice are tangibly integrated into planning and development processes in the EU.

What is aquathermal energy

Aquathermal energy is a source of energy still very little used globally. It is the term for heating and cooling buildings sustainably using heat and cold from water. This involves thermal energy from surface water (river, sea shore or lake), wastewater and drinking water. It includes extracting the heat contained into the water, through aclosed thermodynamic cycle activated by a heat pump in order to transfer it to a volume to be heated. 

Research has shown that Aquathermal energy can provide up to approximately half of the built environment’s heat requirements in the Netherlands.

About the WaterWarmth Project

The Interreg North Sea Programme Project WaterWarmth: Accelerating the transition towards sustainable heating and cooling based on collective surface water heat pump systems. WaterWarmth addresses challenges of European energy use in the heating and cooling sector focusing on Aquathermal energy. The project centers on studying and facilitating energy communities that are delivering energy transition, and is co-developing examples of cooperative AE solutions, integrated into the local context, with citizens from across the North Sea Region.

Project start: April 2023
End date: July 2026

The Interreg North Sea Programme WaterWarmth project team

water warmth project group. Photo.
Photo: Jeanette Schaper.

Read more about the project in the Lund University research portal

The LUCSUS research team

Barry Ness, Senior Lecturer

Barry Ness

Sara Brogaard, Senior Lecturer

Sara Brogaard

Henner Busch, Researcher

Henner cropped_again