Software Solution »AD-Net District Heating« – Dynamic Simulation for the Networks of Tomorrow

Monitoring and Optimizing District Heating Networks With Digital Twin

The district heating of the future as a central component of a sustainable energy system requires new control concepts as well as communicative approaches. With »AD-Net District Heating«, we provide an innovative software tool that dynamically simulates and optimizes the operation of heating networks in real time.

The Digital Twin puts utilities in a position – even under increasingly complex and varying operating conditions – to ensure efficient network operation over the long term, while safeguarding its stability, resilience and security of supply.

»AD-Net District Heating« Simulates and Optimizes Operation of Heat Networks

Current software for operational support of CHP plants either deals with the optimal use of local operating resources, treating the heat network only as a structureless sink. Or software is used for spatially resolved hydro-thermal simulation of the heating networks, which, however, usually neither maps dynamic time-of-flight effects nor allows for operational optimization. This is where »AD-Net District Heating« comes in.

The dynamic simulation of the district heating network has enormous advantages: The network operator can use the software to read out both the temperature and the flow conditions at any point in the district heating network at any time. In this way, he regulates the flow temperature provided at the power plant and the mass flow pumped into the network and thus prevents, for example, gas boilers from having to be switched on at high cost to produce heat.

Mathematics Behind the Software Creates Digital Twin

Classical methods for solving the fluctuating thermohydraulic equations are too inaccurate or costly to provide control proposals in live operation of the district heating network. 

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Dynamic simulation of the inner-city network of the Technische Werke Ludwigshafen. Temperature in the district heating network. © Fraunhofer ITWM

For this reason, we have developed our own efficient numerical method for solving the equations on the pipeline network for »AD-Net District Heating«, which can handle optimization horizons of several days. Based on the software, we create a digital twin of real existing district heating networks. This couples efficient dynamic flow simulation with robust consumption forecasting using artificial neural networks, model predictive control and modern measurement sensor technology. Thanks to the model-based approach, the Digital Twin is able to propose optimal controls for live operation even with low sensor coverage, significantly exceeding the wealth of experience in previous control routines and consumption situations. Given the decentralization of feed-in points and the constant expansion of the grid, this capability is more important than ever.

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Optimized simulation of the subnetwork »Im Neubruch« in Ludwigshafen with our software tool »AD-Net District Heating«. Comparison with the data: Flow temperature, consumption and feed-in. © Fraunhofer ITWM

Furthermore, our »AD-Net District Heating« software offers enormous potential for network expansion planning. By using a model of the network and the underlying thermal-hydraulic equations, we can analyze future expansion scenarios in detail even before measured values from operation are available, in contrast to purely data-driven analyses. Utilities can thus make well-founded decisions at an early stage and use resources optimally.

Digital Twin Supports District Heating Transformation

As the energy transition progresses, the heating sector is facing numerous technical challenges that require innovations in the control of network operation and its monitoring, such as

  • Integration of renewable sources and waste heat potentials into the grids
  • Decentralization of generation capacities with volatile feed-in
  • Dynamic sector coupling and heat grids as regional energy storage for the power sector
  • Adjustment of the temperature level in the networks due to continuously decreasing district heating demand because of stricter energy standards for buildings and progressive refurbishment of the building stock
  • Steady expansion and extension of heating networks

Fields of Application of Our Software »AD-Net District Heating«

District heating suppliers use »AD-Net District Heating« for:

  • Monitoring of the network condition
  • Optimization of operation (also for decentralized feed-in), e.g. interception of load peaks
  • Grid expansion planning and scenario analysis, e.g. expansion of the grid, connection of new sources
  • Early fault detection
  • Optimal placement of new feed points
  • Optimal placement of measurement sensors

It is possible for us to use the software and a transmitted network topology to create studies for certain questions, or for utilities to independently monitor the network status via a user-friendly interface. 

The graphical user interface of our software »AD-Net District Heating« shows the digital twin of a district heating network. © Fraunhofer ITWM

Technical Information About the Software »AD-Net District Heating« 

  • »AD-Net District Heating« is platform-independent and can be used under Windows, Mac or Linux.
  • The control of the software as well as the visualization of results is realized via a specially programmed user interface. The software itself consists of a C++ computational core and a Python interface.
  • »AD-Net District Heating« has an automated STANET import for network topologies, also the import of a GIS network model is possible.


The software tool has been developed jointly with GEF Ingenieur AG and Technische Werke Ludwigshafen since 2015. 

Example Projects


Digital Twin Monitors and Controls District Heating Networks

In the project »DingFESt« we are developing a digital twin for controlling decentralized district heating networks.


Efficiency of District Heating Grids

The aim of the research project »DYNEFF« is to sustainably improve the efficiency of the operating processes of district heating power plants by means of simulations.