The solar thermal collectors in Dusseldorf

AI and the Solar Thermal Systems of the Future

Steinbeis experts develop algorithms for controlling heat generation systems

saM_soL – a new name coined by Samson, a Frankfurt-based provider of control systems, who joined forces with Solites, the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Solar and Sustainable Thermal Energy Systems, to investigate the use of AI in controlling the efficiency of solar thermal collectors. The joint initiative is receiving €1.92 million of funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action for its contribution to the green energy transition. The key emphasis of the project lies in the development of a self-learning algorithm, which has been programmed to optimize grid feed-in and transfer stations, particularly for use with solar thermal systems.

The aim of the pioneering research project, which revolves closely around the use of machine learning (ML), is to improve the use of renewable energy sources. The role of Solites in this is to develop the algorithms required by machine learning, while Samson is inputting both its extensive expertise in control technology and many years of experience in the development of state-of-the-art control systems. The project is being overseen by the research center, Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ).

Using algorithms to control fluctuating energy levels during operation

The starting point for the research project is a set of units equipped with an integrated proportional-integral-derivative (PID) algorithm to control the processes of heating networks. This process for controlling the solar thermal system can be virtualized to allow a digital twin to train the underlying model. The ML model adapts control parameters during operation to match the specific system in keeping with external influences. It should be possible further down the line to optimize the control of both central and distributed feed-in stations for heat generation systems, even in the presence of energy fluctuation during operation. The main focus of the research project is solar thermal energy and its tendency as a source of energy to fluctuate. Practical testing is being carried out at a distributed municipal feed-in station belonging to a solar thermal heating network in Dusseldorf. The plant, which comprises 232 sq m of solar collectors, captures fluid returning from a district heating network and heats it up to be fed into local heating systems.

Explaining the goal, Thilo Walser, who is managing the project at Solites, says: “We’re using the saM_soL project to develop an ML algorithm in a virtual model and train it for later use in real systems. It’s a new approach from a scientific perspective, offering tremendous potential to improve how we control highly fluctuating heat generation systems. It should be possible to transfer this approach later to all kinds of grid feed-in stations.” Samson project manager André Strauch adds: “Ultimately, this solution will reduce material wear and temperature fluctuations, and it will save resources in CHP plants and heat generation systems. For Samson, this is an excellent addition to its range of digital products for enhancing the sustainability of the energy industry, and we’ll also be offering this range to our international customers.”

The focus of attention: smart energy management

Introducing AI to control systems opens up a number of new opportunities for Samson to make energy supplies more efficient and sustainable. This pilot project is taking an important step forward in smart energy management, which is not only about enhancing efficiency, but also allows for near-perfect integration of renewable energy. On successful completion of the project, the new technology will be integrated into a product called SAM DISTRICT ENERGY, a web-based heat distribution solution from Samson that is used by a large number of municipal utilities in Germany to manage, operate, and optimize their systems.

Funded by: The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action following a resolution passed by the German Bundestag.


Thilo Walser (author)
Steinbeis Innovation Center Solar and sustainable thermal energy systems (Solites) (Stuttgart)

Alia Begisheva (author)
SAMSON AG (Frankfurt am Main)