Open data provides £400m opportunity for UK heat networks

The UK energy market could save £400m and reduce emissions by 800,000 tonnes over the next decade by using open and transparent data to reveal energy generation, consumption and distribution inefficiencies, new analysis has revealed.

London-based clean technology firm Guru Systems has analysed consumption data across a number of UK heat networks, concluding that many heat systems are oversized or use “outdated” models to estimate how much heat will be needed – leading to an excess in demand.

But with the help of the Open Data Institute (ODI) and with backing from the now-defunct Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Guru Systems has been working on a new online portal that allows SMEs, researchers and private organisations to work collaboratively to create optimal heat systems that iron-out any energy inefficiencies.

“Guru Systems recognised that a key issue with heat networks was the lack of operational monitoring data,” the analysis read. “In many cases operational data was not being collected from across the whole system, in particular within individual residences. Even where it was, it was not being fully utilised by operators. Importantly, it was very rarely shared between operators and with others.

“This meant that the engineers who design and install these systems, the developers and housing associations that run them and the government, which needs them to meet carbon targets, could not learn from the existing systems or each other.”

Currently, the networks produce heat at a central point, before it is distributed across homes and buildings. With heat networks accounting for around 2% of the UK energy market, Guru Systems maintains that overall heat loss from these networks can be reduced by 68%.

Trials and tribulations

The company’s new Pinpoint system tested the potential of open data on four projects, including a 155-unit housing association. The Pinpoint system was able to identify significant amounts of heat loss between corridors and flats, before communing with the housing association to rectify the inefficiencies by improving insulation.

As well as recovering 68% of the heat used in the system, the trial also reduced tariff payments for residents by almost 50% from 7.7p to 3.8 per kWh. Based on the evidence, Guru Systems believes that more than £200m can be saved across the system – which could increase to £400m if engineers use the open data platform to improve the efficiency of new and under construction heat networks.

While the online portal was established under DECC, it has only just started to be used. However, it is already facing a potential roadblock, after the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) introduced a decision to reduce the financial support for many combined heat and power (CHP) systems throughout the UK.

A recent Committee on Climate Change Progress Report has highlighted the need to strengthen the heating sector in the UK, claiming that progress in heat efficiency in new buildings and those off the gas grid should be prioritised.

Matt Mace

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