Digitisation of heating networks: practical insights

BIG DATA IS BOTH A BENEFIT AND A CHALLENGE 

It would be effortful to find a business operating under the circumstances of the status quo in the 21st century – the era of global digitisation. Endeavouring to streamline their business processes, ensure service quality, reliability, and, simultaneously, to cut down losses, company managers and experts face extraneous and innate pressures. It is a quite common situation when the technicians of the district heating system gives themselves a question: how to ensure safe, effective operation of the heating system and minimise heat losses?

Effective business decisions are based on reliable data. Companies likewise have the capacity to collect different data, but very often data is not analysed as good as it can be.  No exception is District Heating Utilities. When making solutions for high quality heat supply system management, not only the necessary heat output but also the fluid temperature needs to be taken into account. Today, smart heat meters are becoming progressively more common, permitting relevant data to be readable at any time and frequency. On the other hand, heat network staff have more and more data on their hands to do analytics. The obvious question, to that end, is, what to do with the information we receive? How can we handle it fast? How to make a decision according to analysed data? The good news is that there are available IT solutions in the market that can read and process big data instantly and as a result give the best solution for heat network management.

CHALLENGES FOR HEAT SUPPLY UTILITIES

Numerous heat supply companies face to such challenges. First – reduction of heat demand due to renovation and climate change, scaling down heat production and transportation costs, integrating renewable resources. Second – increase of heat demand in big cities. Third – heat supply companies often admit that they don’t have or all technical information about the equipment, network schemes and documentation are not updated.

Because of the lack of solid information about the network, good decisions can’t be done. Some company specialists are well familiar to a typical case when a heat supplier, upon receipt of a complaint from the residents of one house feeling too cold, boosts the heat temperature conveyed from the boiler house, although, as it happens, the problem is not in the boiler room but in the heating point of a particular house. This scenario altogether illustrates a situation where misinterpreted information leads to additional financial costs and losses.

The quality of heat network control is another concern for power supply experts. Some of companies note that it is often unclear if network is managed in the best way. This question is difficult to answer when, depending on the network configuration, parameters and heat demand for each hour of network operation, the optimal pressure, flow rate and supply temperature in the system is not determined. Nowadays, the planning of heat production usually is based on historical experience, weather forecasts and an approved temperature schedule. Furthermore, it is important to remember that heating networks have a certain exchange rate (due to long pipelines). Therefore, when operating network in automatic control mode, temperature control according to the temperature schedule is not optimal, as the inertia of the network is not taken into consideration.

The reduction in heat consumption which increases the relative loss on the routes, as the renovation of urban areas and climate changes the operating regime of this network, is another challenge for heating systems. Furthermore, the renovation of pipelines takes time and does not usually correlate with the renovation of the building. This condition leads to solution – effective control of the current network.

The integration of renewable resources into the DH networks plays not the last role in district heating management tasks. Solar panels mounted and connected to the consumer’s HD networks are a common example. In the summer, the user produces himself heat energy and passes part of the energy to DH networks. If the supplier customer has a large presence on the network scale, maintaining this network becomes a real challenge. The producing consumer changes the designed hydraulic flows, which, in turn, contributes to the heat loss of the networks.

The operator’s network management is dynamic and varies at different times of the day and year, irrespective of fuel type with many sources of heat generation.

All the previously mentioned challenges are related to large amounts of data, and their analysis. The natural conclusion is that IT systems which help evaluate, manage and run the network most efficiently will be the best solution.

IT SOLUTION AND ITS BENEFITS

The first step to solution is inventory and digitisation of heat network, allowing all the required network element parameters to be incorporated in the digital format. All data relating to the DH network system are therefore stored in a database to which engineers have free access and can quickly check the parameters of a particular component.


Benefits of the Energy Advice IT platform EA-PSM Hydraulic

The data of DH supply network, such as boilers, pumping stations, pipes and consumer heat station are collected to EA-PSM Hydraulic software. The data are linked also as mapped in to the integrated geo-information system (GIS). Most heat supply firms use GIS data, but they are often not completely or insufficient to perform the real time analysis that is actually needed. As mentioned in the article’s opening wording, the good news is that data collection, processing and modification systems already exist on the market. However, businesses face yet another challenge: the infrastructure personnel is insufficiently experienced to manage the network through the complex IT software. The results and conclusions of the calculations may be provided to network operators and other responsible persons every hour of network management.

The Lithuania-based company Energy Advice has developed one of the most leading-edge Information Technology for district heating network management. The company offers an advanced solution as a service not only for large but also for small heating networks, taking into account the market need.

The solution consists of real time district heating system data collection from Scada, smart metering systems, data integration with GIS, real time district heating consumption forecast also as real time hydraulic-energy flow calculation and optimization.

The EA-PSM Hydraulic covers the needs not only of planning engineers, but also provides real time setpoints for optimum district heating network control.

More about the solution https://www.energyadvice.lt/en/district-heating/ or contact info@energyadvice.lt

Prepared by
UAB Energy Advice director PhD Vytautas Šiožinys

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