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As climate change climbs ever higher on the global agenda, we find ourselves in the unenviable situation where the simple process of heating our houses is responsible for almost a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions.
With stringent environmental government targets in place, it’s vital that our energy and engineering companies focus on developing the low-carbon technologies and solutions that will make a significant contribution to decarbonising heat.
One of the potential key contributors to our future low-carbon economy are district heat networks that operate from decentralised energy systems to supply low-temperature heating. Efficiency and cost are the drivers behind district heat, but in terms of reality and the governments targets for 2050, what does this look like?
- Today there are approx 500,000 District Heating (DH) connections with the 2050 target of 24% of domestic connections on DH (8m properties).
- This then equates to a forecast of 234k connections required per year.
- Latest annual housebuilding figures sit at 157,000 of which around only 25% relate to connections to DH networks.
Significant increase in new build required to match government annual forecast of 300,000 although change needed to increase proportion of DH.
What about heat? A journey to efficiency
Heat in the form of district heating has been around for nearly 150 years. Starting with the first generation in the 1880s it was based on distribution by steam using concrete ducts. Transmission required very high temperatures which, unfortunately, made it inefficient and unreliable to say the least. Further developments were made in district heating and associated technology in the second and third generation in the 1930’s & 1970’s respectively.
May the 4th be with you, or is it already here?
We now enter the realm of 4th generation district heating (4GDH) which is all about the networks that operate in low-emission - typically new – buildings.
Normally, a primary flow temperature into a network could be up to 80 degrees Celsius or indeed higher, 4GDH concentrates on the design and development of an operating model that delivers primary heat at a much lower temperature and so significantly lowers the return temperature.
Why is this beneficial? District heating on its own is a method of decarbonising heat. We take a look at the efficiency of a network and examine the supply against demand to target waste heat and make the system as efficient as possible. By focusing on system design, we’re able to reduce temperature to minimise waste.
Based on this principle, our aim is to minimise heat loss across the entire network to increase efficiency and create reductions in cost and emissions. Whilst I think we’d agree that this is very firmly a step in the right direction, is it far enough?
Inclusive versus exclusive
If we take demand for heat and hot water as an example, there’s inevitably a heat source somewhere that is ready to react. If we add data to this process to add value and predict demand, we are able to make the system far more efficient via a more precise matching of supply and demand and ultimately a smoother profile of operation.
There are a large quantity of heat networks in the UK that are operating well below par and we need to examine these networks, apply data and analytics, and improve existing infrastructure to truly optimise them.
4GDH is often sold to us as the future, but it’s happening now. If we take a more revolutionary approach and look at heat as just part of the overall energy system and examine all the inputs, outputs and interfaces in detail; if we then look at potential bolt ons, such as battery storage and electric vehicles, we create a foundation that follows more of a smart city strategy. By designing, creating or optimising interlinking networks, we lower the overall cost of energy and significantly improve carbon reduction.
Disruptive thinking reaps rewards
Siemens is known as a market leader in metering and we’ve focused our expertise on that element of district heating networks to harness real-time data for forecasting. However, listening to the voice of the customer we have adapted our innovative cloud based Smart Pay as You Go offering for Heat. At the moment, prepay is based on “Thick” technology, predicated on a high cost display that sits within a property, undertaking key decisions and what we’ve done is effectively taken all that equipment out and have replaced it with a cloud environment to deliver on accuracy, security and reliability. Such an approach also delivers significant cost reductions in terms of CAPEX, OPEX and REPEX.
We’ve partnered with a like-minded industry leader on a pilot a PAYG project. The solution removes the need for a high-cost, per-property display by providing the equivalent data through the consumers smart phone, whilst taking full advantage of a cloud environment For existing scheme operators, this provides an easily retrofittable solution and thus significantly reducing cost to deploy, although more critically a far lower operational cost over a scheme lifecycle. For new build, the benefits are far greater gaining the ability to pre pay enable 100% of the portfolio.
The art of the possible
“Everything is impossible………..until it happens!” In terms of district heating, we’ve achieved a great deal in terms of economical and environmental targets. However, via innovation and a challenge to the status quo we will provide a solid foundation for growth and we will deliver against the Governments targets, ultimately creating a sustainable solution for generations to come.