District heating
Data reliability
Operational efficiency

Posted on Friday, June 28, 2019 by Bjarne Sig Halkjær

Why Digitalisation Matters Today

Remember: Digitalisation is not a goal in itself but rather a mean to reach the goal of more energy efficient district heating and optimised operations. The really big potential for utilities comes when the operations are truly digitalised - because it is only when you really know what happens in the distribution network that you can work proactively to optimise it.
A report created by Ennova, based on qualitative interviews with ten of the biggest utilities in Denmark, suggests that it is possible to realise an annual saving of up to €90 per consumer, however, this is only on possible via advanced technology and adaptation of digital solutions.
This may sound like much, but district heating utilities have already realised significant amounts with basic digital solutions.

An example of this is Assens District Heating utility in Denmark who decided to invest in further digitalisation of their operations. The utility introduced intelligent heat meters and a remotely read network solution with hourly values.

This provided them with large amounts of data which they were able to act on and turn into tangible optimisation plans. 

Those optimisation plans have so far saved the utility €33 annually per consumer. 

As a result of the optimisations the utility has realised savings in equivalence of € 33 per household

What does this mean for district heating utilities in general?
The utility realised the savings by digging into data on the volume and temperature of the water that they supplied, locating the worst performing instalations and monitoring the distribution of heat. For many utilities the journey towards digitalising the operations is just beginning or has perhaps not even started yet. This will push nomad-utilities to, on a very short term, to invest heavily in completely remodelling the distribution network with intelligent meters.

In fact, annual billing will soon become history as The European Union is introducing a new legislation which obligates utilities to operate remotely read meters and to provide data on consumption to consumers twelve times a-year. This will be an expensive and time-consuming task for utilities who still operates with manual readings. 

In general, utilities lose 1-1.5% in revenue per end-user every year, which is why utilities have to look into the cost to stay competitive. The most effective way to search for areas that can be optimised is through transparency – transparency created on the basis of data.

The data you get from a smart meter can turn your annual loss of 1% in revenue around and you can start increasing the revenue per end-user along with increasing the efficiency of your operations.

These annual savings make it possible for utilities to invest further into digitalisation creating a rewarding spiral with continuous and never-ending possibilities. 

The real potential comes when you look at individual buildings and inefficient installations!
Taking a look back at Assens District Heating Utility in Denmark. The utility has planned to do a thorough analysis of each individual household and by doing this, they estimate that they can realise the same amount of savings, €33 annually, from optimising 20% of the households. With total transparency of the distribution network, utilities can really pave the way for many optimisation possibilities which will lead to increased competitiveness and better customer service.

When digitalisation of a utility benefits the end-user, utilities will start to increase the competitiveness of district heating from a consumer perspective. This is not only achieved through reduced billings but also through increased customer service since the most time-consuming tasks often involves the consumer. Many of the tasks involving the consumer can in fact be omitted when operating remotely read metering. Tasks like handling complaints, diagnostics of the installation and reconfiguring the meterscan all be done without having to enter the consumers house due to the remote accessibility of the smart meter through meter reading platforms like READy.

Another way of providing high value to your consumers is through proactive service and maintenance of meters and irregularities inside consumers houses. By analysing the data from each smart meter, a utility can inform consumers of an unnecessary high level of heat consumption. An example of this could be that a plumber has installed floor heating in 20 houses and has installed and adjusted the heating valves wrongly. Therefore, the consumer delivers a far higher return temperature which the consumer must pay an extra fee for . Then wonder what happens if you as a utility informs the consumers that their floor heating has been improperly installed and thereby saving them money.

This gives your consumers an incredible high amount of comfort and security – and this is not event taking into account the sustainability issue.

How does the future look?
There are several solutions out there and the degree of digital adoption varies greatly around the world. Some utilities have been quick to adapt and make the shift to digital, while others have been a little reticent. If you’ve been sitting back and waiting to see what unfolds, it’s worth being aware that the digitalised district heating utility does not belong to an imaginary future. It is very much here today.

Making the shift to digital is about protecting revenue, asset management, customer relations and much more and with smart metering solutions, the future holds many possibilities.

The heating industry accounts for almost 50% of energy consumption in the world, and as the pressure on the earth’s resources grows, the need to be able to demonstrate sustainable operations increases. Restrictions, regulations and demands for district heating utilities, makes it a must for utilities to lower the forward temperatures in the distribution network in the future. 

Lower temperatures do not only impact the energy-consumption but also opens up for a more efficient integration of of renewable energy. As smart metering advances, combining and optimally using renewables is not only possible – it is also both cheaper and easier. Through automated systems, utilities will be able to shift between the energy sources on hourly- and maybe even minute-basis automatically. This doesn’t only open opportunities for lowered forward temperatures but also for increased revenue through lowered production costs.

District heating utilities are an important component in achieving future sustainable energy systems.. If you want to learn more about our smart heat metering solutions, click here

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