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Heat 2015

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By Casey Cole, Managing Director of Guru Systems

At the beginning of this year we were given the green light to conduct feasibility studies into technology to improve the energy efficiency of district heat networks.

Nine months on and we have successfully moved beyond proposals and concepts, and in May were awarded a share of a £7 million fund to put our plans into action by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

It was a pivotal moment for the company and the team.

Our core team has worked for many years in the decentralised energy sector and we were champing at the bit to put our plans into action.

As a company we have worked with landlords and developers across the UK to ensure they can monitor their networks and bill tenants correctly for the energy they use. For tenants, the Guru Hub works as a pay as you go and energy monitoring device, whereas for developers it provides a way to measure incoming energy, heat produced and used across the networks – as well as being able to see any drops in efficiency.

Our DECC project takes our diagnostic capabilities to the next level.

Heat network operators have generally suffered from a lack of data about how their networks are performing. And in those cases where they’ve managed to extract data from their systems, it’s often been difficult to interpret. As a result, good practice in the UK heat market hasn’t evolved as quickly as it should.

We’re attempting to radically speed up the development of the market by building tools for operators to understand and analyse their own energy performance data and, importantly, share that data with each other.

Using innovative machine learning algorithms to analyse the large data sets that come from heat networks, our systems will put the power back in the hands of operators and lower the cost of tenants’ bills thanks to the improvements that can then be made in the networks’ efficiency.

Early results from the four heat networks where we’re trialling the technology have been hugely positive. Working with operators, we’ve used the outputs of our system to identify cost effective changes that are significantly improving network performance. By the end of the project, we expect to have reduced input fuel use on the trial sites by between 33 and 51 percent. This can equate to an average saving of £179 per home per year.

If this technology was rolled out to heat networks across the UK we could save £400 million in reduced energy costs in 10 years.

These figures are astounding and give an indication of just how much value there is to be had in improving performance of heat networks.

Not only are we looking to save tenants money, we are also working with leading developers and affordable housing providers to help them anonymously share key performance data – including return temperatures and peak loads – while complying with the Data Protection Act and our own strict data sharing policies.

It was important for us, as part of this project, to encourage a flow of information. Not just between operators, but with suppliers and consultants as well.

For example, many designers of heat networks never see their systems in action and have no idea of how well (or poorly!) they perform in real life. For this reason, we believe it’s just as important to share data with network designers as it is to share with operators. Otherwise, they don’t learn from real world outcomes and improve design on their next project.

It’s an exciting time for the innovation of heat networks and we are just one of eight schemes receiving this funding from DECC

This year in particular has been a landmark one for the sector, with CIBSE and the ADE publishing a Code of Practice which will ensure minimum standards on new networks. But standards aren’t enough on their own.

The old maxim that you can’t improve what you don’t measure is especially true in the heat sector. The evolution of the UK heat market will depend on the effective extraction, analysis and sharing of data by heat network operators and other stakeholders and we hope to do our part in making this happen.

 

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  • Marko Cosic
    Marko Cosic says #
    Nice one Casey; cracking results there. :-) Do we get to find out who dropped the biggest clangers then? Was it the designers (M&
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Last year, the innovative combined heat and power and ground source heat pump system installed at Notre Dame Primary School was celebrated at the ADE's annual awards dinner.  One year on, we spoke to Bob McNair from Glasgow City Council to find out more about how this innovative system has benefitted the school's community.

In 2013, Notre Dame Primary School and Ellie Nursery installed five mini combined heat and power (CHP) units, to work in tandem with a ground source heat pump (GSHP) and thermal storage. This past year, the ground source heat pumps were at 50% of the heating and hot water capacity, with the CHPs running for around 4500 hours.

Having a flexible system and using complimentary technologies have been and will be a real benefit to the school in the years to come.

"Over the last two years occupancy hours have increased by over 50%, and the CHP system has been able to facilitate these changes with ease....With small scale CHP there is no need to modulate the engine output, the system runs in response to the heating controls without any issues."

The ability of the CHPs and the GSHPs to work in tandem was critical to the success of the installation.

"Last winter all five CHP units were readjusted to run continuously up to 23hours per day to ensure a consistent supply of heat and hot water. Now that RHI metering is in place, the school can reduce the heat input from the CHPs by 40% and in turn increase the use of the GSHP. This small change in how the heat and hot water is produced means the school will benefit more from the Renewable Heat Incentive without changing the level of comfort."

Generating its own heat and power gives the school a certain level of future proofing against rising gas and electricity prices.


"When gas prices increase, in the years to come, this school need not rely on the “standby” gas fuelled boilers installed in the school. It can generate is own heat and electrical power without using either boilers or GSHPs.  Conversely, when the renewable level of electricity production reaches a peak, the GSHPs can contribute more heat and hot water than the CHPs."  

Carbon emissions are also an important metric for the school.

"Despite the change in occupancy hours the carbon emissions from the school have been below that of other well managed schools in Glasgow. With the changes made for next year the CO2 levels at Notre Dame Primary School and Ellie Nursery will be far lower.”

Finally, the school community love the new refurbished old school and new 5 storey extension and are proud of the low carbon system!

"The kids and parents love the school with its renewable system. The school is Victorian and even has the same cast iron radiators, albeit refurbished, that their great, great, great grandparents saw in 1894."

 

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  • Bob McNair
    Bob McNair says #
    Just one slight error - the GSHPs contributed 50% of the GSHP capacity and not 50% of the heat required for the building as mentio
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Posted by on in Heat 2015

District heating is making a comeback! These heating systems are winning support from the Government, landlords and planners alike as we look for energy-efficient alternatives to conventional heating systems. Casey Cole, Managing Director at Guru Systems, explains how modern-day technology is helping to reignite enthusiasm for district heat.

District heat is enjoying a renaissance.

Having been all but confined to history after the demise of the ‘streets in the sky’ building programme of the 60s and 70s, many are now turning to modern day district heat networks as a long-term solution to providing low-carbon energy to our housing stock.

It is more than 50 years since the concept was first introduced in the UK, and the mistakes of the past have been well documented.

Today, however, the landscape couldn’t be more different.

New technology, with the support of Government financing, means that district heat is now a reliable source of energy that is increasingly easy to monitor and manage.  

The Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that 14% of UK heat demand could be cost effectively met by heat networks by 2030, with the figure rising to 43% by 2050. While in the capital, the Mayor of London has set out plans for 25 per cent of heat and power used in London to be generated through the use of localised decentralised energy systems by 2025.

Planners are similarly championing its use in new housing developments, particularly in London, as they promote an “eco-first” approach to planning permission.  

Robin Feeley, Director of L&Q Energy, which manages 2,000 homes on 33 district heat networks across London and the south east, said: “In London in particular, district heat is no longer a choice, it is a necessity and as developers, housing association are having to adapt and fast.

“The technology developed to monitor these networks has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and in many ways housing associations are leading the way in implementing these advancements and pioneering new technology, including smart meters.”

The 21st century district heat schemes benefits have been widely publicised, as energy is distributed from a central hub, rather than from boilers in individual properties, heat networks are more energy efficient than conventional heating systems and allow landlords to supply low cost heat to their tenants.

The challenges

Heat networks are notoriously difficult to administer, especially as landlords are not allowed to make a profit from the energy they sell to their tenants. If they charge too much they face legal challenges, if they charge too little they could lose money every time a tenant turns on their heating.

In most cases landlords will set tariffs based on the expected performance of the system – not on real world data that shows how well the network is actually working. This means that if initial assumptions are inaccurate, or there is a sudden dip in efficiency through a fault in the network, costs for landlord could spiral rapidly.

At Guru, we have seen cases of a 100-home scheme losing £65k in 14 months, simply because their tariff had assumed a much better efficiency than was achieved in practice.

The landlord billed their residents every month according to aggregate consumption, but they had not had access to performance data and so did not know their tariff was wrong.

The technology

With landlords having to take on the unfamiliar role of energy provider – and facing a raft of technical and legal ramifications – housing professionals are mixing traditional ideas with new technology to bring district heat into the modern age.

Robin Feeley continues: “We spent five years refining our district heat networks to the point where we have a produced a technical specification for our networks. At first, like I am sure many housing associations were, we relied heavily on contractors to specify what we needed.

“Since first installing district heat networks, technology has transformed the way we deliver and monitor the energy we provide to our tenants, to such an extent that we are now revisiting earlier developments to install smart meters where previously we had old-fashioned prepayment meters.”

The majority of landlords have no way of knowing how well their networks are running as the data is collected monthly, rather than being logged minute-by-minute. While many recognise the need to provide cost-effective heating to their residents, the majority have no way of reviewing efficiencies on their networks.

Although older heat meters provide essential data, most of it remains unused due to antiquated data collection systems. Some operators of district heat networks rely on customers to provide readings or send an operative with a radio receiver to collect readings from each meter, while others are using the 20-year-old technology to transmit data on usage from individual homes.

These basic methods mean that if landlords are calculating their tariffs incorrectly or networks are not running efficiently, they can suffer huge financial losses in the months between meter readings.

Today housing associations can monitor key information on how the network is performing – from the central plant right through to each individual’s home – meaning landlords can quickly identify any issues in the network long before costs mount up.

By delivering real-time information on energy usage and payments, smart meters allow registered providers to identify and focus resources on vulnerable residents who are in fuel poverty and in immediate need of support.

The technology to manage and monitor heat networks is constantly advancing. Guru Systems recently won funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to develop an algorithm to evaluate the efficiency of schemes.

Using innovative algorithms that build on techniques developed for Big Data applications, the technology will be able to recognise patterns in performance data and identify the likely source of any inefficiency on networks.

As well as identifying the problem, the new system will also propose solutions ranked by cost-effectiveness, while machine learning will ensure the algorithm’s accuracy continues to improve the more data it analyses.

Guru Systems has seen its technology installed on 35 schemes across the UK for landlords including, L&Q, Affinity Sutton, Octavia Housing, and Peabody Trust, and private developers, such as Berkeley and Telford Homes.

Casey Cole is Managing Director of Guru Systems, which provides smart payment and energy-efficiency technology systems for local energy networks 


 This feature was originally published in the April edition of Housing Association and Building Maintenance Magazine. To read more great articles, visit www.habmonline.co.uk

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