Posted on Monday, April 24, 2023 by Steen Schelle Jensen
This blog post was initially published as the column of the international magazine Hot Cool in March 2023 and has been slightly modified.
”Digitalization is an essential step in the evolution of district heating systems. It not only improves the reliability of the systems but also makes them more sustainable and customer friendly.” This is the answer ChatGPT gives when asked if digitalization is relevant in district heating. And it’s not a bad one. We’ll get back to it.
Whenever things get complex, digitalization is considered the go-to answer. Few industries have seen an increase in complexity, as the one experienced in district heating. And it has only been intensified by the challenges the world has faced over the last few years, including the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy supply.
A new, fluctuating reality
Besides the geopolitical challenges, another massive change to district heating is the necessary transition to renewables and waste heat, also known as 4th generation DH. Multiple decentralized heat sources, a high degree of electrification, sector coupling, the need for lower temperatures, different kinds of storage, active buildings, etc., are becoming the new reality.
It requires a fully connected value chain from production to end users to ensure efficient balancing of fluctuating heat production and to meet the demand of an increasing number of connected buildings — without jeopardizing reliability. It truly calls for digital solutions of operational aspects, asset management, new attractive service offerings to end users, etc. Ultimately, digitalization has the potential to revolutionize the way we plan, maintain, and operate our district heating systems.
And it’s already ongoing, not least due to the mandatory roll-out of smart meters required in the Energy Efficiency Directive. However, a recent survey by Euroheat & Power DHC+ Platform concludes that the demand side of the district heating value chain (buildings/end users) is underserved, as many existing solutions mainly relate to production, forecasting, and energy trade. Consequently, the smart meter roll-out creates a unique opportunity to take an entirely data-driven end-to-end approach to the DH system.
Data insight ensures the right solutions
The other day, I saw the latest numbers for Kamstrup’s hosting center and the smart metering solutions we manage on our customers’ behalf. We now host data from more than 1.3 million heat meters across +400 DH operators – and almost half of them provide hourly time series. Imagine what we can do when all these data points are turned into actionable insights!
Many DH operators have already harvested significant results from the network transparency which smart meter data provides. These results include lower temperatures, more capacity, and reduced losses. This is great, and I’m happy to see that digitalization is now a topic at almost every DH event, just like national associations are expressing digital ambitions and sharing customer success stories while international working groups are underway in Euroheat & Power, IEA DHC, etc. Keep up the good work!
It's time to get back to the point about digitalization often being the go-to answer. The fact remains that developing not just digital solutions but the RIGHT digital solutions for DH operators begins with an in-depth understanding of the industry's complexity and the challenges and processes DH operators must address. So, much like ChatGPT can provide an answer that isn’t wrong but lacks depth and tangibility, as suppliers, we cannot sit in our ivory towers trying to guess what DH operators need and how to support them.
Let’s combine our power of imagination
The best digital solutions are those based on joint efforts of the leading DH operators and innovative solutions providers – combining their hands-on experience with our deep technological expertise. We need to explore new opportunities together to make sure we are attacking and solving the right challenges for the benefit of our entire industry.
Over the past 2-3 years, I’ve been involved in multiple dedicated co-creation sessions facilitating exactly this process; Having open discussions, sharing strengths and weaknesses, data crunching and prototyping together before ending a long workday with pizza, and then doing it all again the next day. It is a truly unique experience that creates crucial openness and trust between all involved — and I look forward to many more.
So, consider this my open invitation to combine our power of imagination — across DH operators and suppliers — to create the best possible solutions together. I and Kamstrup will be at the Euroheat & Power Congress in Torino, Italy on 22-24 May 2023. Come and meet us and let’s talk about collaboration opportunities. Because that is step one of driving the necessary digital transformation of district heating.