EA-SAS Heating, a platform for the energy sector that employs artificial intelligence techniques and Digital Twin technology for the energy sector, is a solution which allows to save energy and reduce CO2 emissions. DEnergy Advice developed the platform to optimise district heating network operation including energy generation, transmission and consumption.
With global natural gas prices rising rapidly, Europe’s heat economy is experiencing particular pressure. At the same time, smart network management solutions are gaining more and more weight as they help to make more efficient use of expensive resources. Therefore even a ten percent reduction in fuel consumption during this period results in an impressive financial gain. For this reason, more and more district heating (DH) network companies are looking for efficient digital solutions.
The optimization of process of DH network companies is based on objective, relevant and reliable data. Now, with smart heat meters becoming increasingly widespread, relevant data can be read at any moment of time and frequency. So, the natural question that arises is, what to do with the information received? How to process it quickly? How to make decisions based on data analysis?
To answer these questions, Energy Advice has developed EA-SAS Heating, an information systems platform which can instantly read and process large amounts of data and offer the most suitable solution to the problems faced by heating networks.
Similar solutions have received considerable attention recently as the digitisation of heat supply companies leads to a higher stage of evolution. New technologies virtualize and link heat generation, distribution, supply, and consumption processes. Systems management becomes accessible remotely via the Internet and is then automated through artificial intelligence machine learning algorithms and historical data analysis.
Digital transformation towards the Green Deal
For heat producers and suppliers, the Green Deal being implemented throughout the European Union means, first and foremost, more efficient heat economy management. The heat sector will inevitably have to transform and exploit the data for effective decision-making.
The good news is that solutions for implementing this transformation are already emerging on the market and can produce considerable results, both in terms of saving resources and mitigating energy losses, and in terms of reducing CO2 emissions.
In their turn, companies that properly assess and manage business risks and focus on efficiency improvement pay particular attention to digitisation because they see IT solutions to maintain and strengthen their market position, ensure a better customer experience, and produce greater customer satisfaction.
With modern tools, businesses can prove to be really customer-centric, provide greater convenience to communities, and cut a significant portion of costs, thus saving resources. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are also one of the significant results of the change. Therefore, digitisation is a clear step towards the green deal, and next-generation solutions are easy to access.
Digital transformation: Where to start?
In advising customers, the first issue to be addressed by the Energy Advice team is, what to do with the information flow generated by smart heat meters and other sensors. A heat supply company intending to take the path of digital transformation should understand what stages are ahead. In order to be successful with digital transformation Energy Advice clients have gone through such stages:
First, digitization and inventory of the heating network –- the transfer of network information from paper format to digital and the hydraulic model preparation– is a prerequisite for change. Collected and entered into the EA-SAS Heating system, the information about heat exchangers of heat consumers, such as household, shopping malls, industrial consumers, temperature charts of heat consumers, diameters of heat supply pipes, lengths and types of insulation, control fittings, pumps of pumping stations and heat production is linked with an integrated geographic information system (GIS), i.e. the network is mapped and a hydraulic model, which allows making calculations, is produced.
The next step is data. The possibility to collect relevant data at any point of time and at the desired frequency is a prerequisite to properly employ data and manage real-time digital solutions. The data should be stored on a single platform, not multiple, and properly organized to enable analytics.
The final stage is the creation of a digital twin model. A digital twin is a virtual copy of a device, process, or system – the mathematical digital model that describes the physical system or process. When creating a digital twin of heating networks, the systems are described mathematically, and their parameters are analyzed – calculations are performed in the EA-SAS Heating cloud platform every 5 minutes.
This method of processing data collected from network management systems allows finding the optimal operation setpoints and setting key performance indicators (KPI) that management systems should follow. In other words, after performing mathematical analysis, the digital twin gives control tasks to the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) control system. In this way, the technological process is optimized. So, in the short term, the digital twin technology increase heat energy production efficiency and reduce heat losses in the networks. In the long term, DH network operation optimization reduce mechanical stress on pipes.
EA-SAS Heating platform allows managing the technological process in real time, performs analysis and makes optimal decisions based on setpoints. With the help of artificial intelligence, EA-SAS Heating solves multiple tasks without the involvement of engineering personnel. The supplier ensures constant software updates and offers the possibility to purchase a real-time network management service relevant to both large and small heating networks.
How to ensure that digital transformation is successful?
Energy Advice outlines five elements of significant change. This holistic and everlasting improvement involves new technologies, process management and company culture.
1. Setting tangible goals for digital transformation. Before deciding to purchase one or another IT solution, it is important to establish project KPIs. For example, the supplier must reach clearly defined goal – reduce flow temperature by 5 degrees Celsius. With initial data of a specific project at hand, the Energy Advice team can calculate very accurately what results can be achieved.
2. It is better to buy a real-time optimum setpoint tasks in Platform as a Service (PaaS) rather than an IT platform. Energy Advice must ensure the functionality of the digital twin and the generation of optimal network management setpoint tasks.
3. Support from top management. Digital transformation as a phenomenon brings certain confusion in all companies. The employees are concerned about their workplace and afraid of relying on the solutions of artificial intelligence. Management must provide and develop retraining opportunities for the staff.
4. The ROI should be up to 3 years. This is because IT solutions have little time to prove their value in the market. Overall, it is not advisable to invest in IT solutions if the payback period is longer than 3 years because technologies in this area can quickly become obsolete. The ability to quickly reach specific KPIs and an immediately visible return on investment are the key conditions for products to be competitive and meet customer expectations.
5. It is important to understand that digital transformation is an ongoing process, not a finite one. The available information encourages continuous improvement, search for new ideas and implementation of innovation, while also opening opportunities for the improvement of corporate culture.
Information systems platforms, which can collect and process large amounts of data in real time and offer the most appropriate way to solve problems faced by heating networks, are a new milestone. New technologies such as EA-SAS Heating will help to solve many -challenges in the future, when heat supply companies will have to collect waste heat from many large and small heat sources. The integration of sources will inevitably require a temperature chart of the fourth and fifth generation heating networks, where the networks will operate in low temperature modes.
Changes in the network operating mode dictated by the CO2 emissions, building renovation, waste energy collection become challenges that are much easier to meet when companies use a state-of-the-art automation tools – an IT system helping to analyze, manage and operate networks in the most efficient way. It is expected that market will change dramatically over the next decade, and digital tools can be an important condition for businesses to survive and be competitive.
PhD Vytautas Šiožinys,
CEO Energy Advice, Kaunas, Lithuania