Grid infrastructure
District heating

Demystifying GIS data – the what, why, and how for heat utilities

By Mads Zederkof, Strategic Product Manager at Kamstrup & Rasmus Bundegaard Eriksen, GIS Specialist at Thvilum A/S

As the district heating sector continues its transition to greener energy sources, a key element is improving energy efficiency through digitalisation. Here, Geographic Information System (GIS) data can emerge as the entry point for data-driven analytics providing utilities with unique network insights.

Today’s district heating utilities have their hands full. In addition to decarbonisation, integration of renewables and  production, the geopolitically uncertain scenario for gas supplies is adding to the pressure by necessitating substantial investments in expanding distribution networks and connecting new consumers.

It's a race against time – and to succeed, utilities must know where to optimise and base their decisions on the right foundation. The following explores the vital role GIS data plays in delivering just that.

district heating illustration showing points of interest in the network

What is GIS data?

The digital version of the real world

GIS data, or Geographic Information System data, is a set of geographically specific data. Mapped in a coordinate system – a GIS map – with the precise location of assets in both the X, Y, and Z plane, GIS data is essentially a digital reflection of the physical world containing comprehensive information about a utility’s pipes, including location, dimensions, insulation and age.

Also, it incorporates spatial coordinates detailing topography, vegetation, and building data. As a result, utilities get a comprehensive geospatial data map of their pipes and the surrounding physical conditions in their supply area.

GIS data enables you to gain precise insight into underground assets that would otherwise be challenging to access. This not only offers a holistic overview but also assists in identifying the location and specifics of underground pipes before utilities starting digging.

Acquiring and organising GIS data may require time and effort – but it yields significant benefits in the long run. Here’s why.

district heating illustration showing points of interest in the network

The why:

A foundation for better decision-making

Having well-, high-quality GIS data gives utilities an overview of their network. And when combined with the right data-driven analytics tools, GIS mapping technology can therefore help utilities enhance their efficiency and maintain security of supply.

This includes identifying bottlenecks in the district heating network, indication of leaks in pipes or pipes that are oversized for the actual heat demand. Additionally, digital tools can pinpoint network errors with GIS data providing location information and essential pipe details to facilitate the decision of how to best solve the issue at hand.

Also, analytics based on GIS data empowers utilities with network transparency to support fact-based asset management, planning and improved decision-making. For example, knowing the age and status of existing pipes enables data-driven decisions on pipe investments and expansions – optimising resource utilisation in terms of both time and costs.

heat intelligence interface showing pipe section data information from a district heating network
heat intelligence interface showing pipe section data information from a district heating network
This way, GIS data extends beyond being a mere pipe overview for utilities; it plays a key role in embracing digital transformation and enhancing the efficiency and decarbonisation of the heating sector. Plus, as environmental awareness increases, there will be greater demands to keep track of data on which pipes are used and where they come from. This calls on utilities to proactively invest in GIS registrations to prepare for the future – and to reap all the benefits.

The how:

The better the data, the better the result

Using GIS data and meter data, analytics tools can make accurate calculations of e.g., flow and temperature down to hourly or even five-minute intervals, but this requires high-quality data. This underlines the importance of exact information such as dimensions, installation year and precise quota allocation in achieving accurate and reliable results.

Therefore, the initial step in working with GIS technology is for utilities to document their data for spatial analysis. Here, thoroughness is paramount to ensure the right foundation. Given that most assets are located underground and not easily accessible, your data must mirror your physical reality with GIS data pinpointing the exact location of pipes in the ground with centimetre-level accuracy. Additionally, it's essential to document all components contributing to simulating the pipe network, including valves, pipes, production units and booster stations.

The next critical step is accurately modelling your data. The cable route mapping plays a pivotal role as gaps in the model can compromise the tool's ability to deliver accurate results. Ultimately, any given model and tool will only be as good as the data you feed them.

Finally, maintaining the GIS data's accuracy and ensuring that your dataset is updated is critical for ongoing operations, informed decision-making and analytical precision.

Getting your utility mapping sorted and your GIS data collection in place can be a demanding task. Some utilities do this themselves, but we recommend collaborating with an expert in this field to ensure solid data management. Not only can they help collect and validate your data, but also get a system adapted to your required registrations and ensure that any conversion process – e.g., from old drawings – is done correctly.

It’s all about the right tool

GIS data provides the foundation to unlock the network’s black box – but it takes the right tools to turn the data into value-creating insights.

One of them is Kamstrup’s Heat Intelligence – a web-based analytics platform designed to provide actionable insight into your distribution network. Heat Intelligence combines GIS data like pipe length, dimension and insulation with meter data to calculate how heat travels in the utility’s distribution network and what it means for its heat supply – enabling the model to determine the ideal temperatures and pressure.

Based on these insights, utilities can identify what stresses the network, reduce heat loss, and save valuable time. Plus, by working with data rather than estimates, you gain a reliable basis for prioritising pipe sections where they will get the best return on investment by repairing, optimising or replacing pipe sections with new ones.

This makes Heat Intelligence a perfect example of how the right analytics tool can help you leverage GIS data to optimise your distribution network and prepare for a more energy-efficient tomorrow.

Curious to know if your GIS data is ready for digital tools? Learn about our GIS Study that can check your data foundation.