Heat networks deliver heating and hot water to multiple residences from one central source. Unlike individual gas boilers, they have the potential to play a major role in the decarbonisation of heat as they can be powered by more sustainable sources of heat.
Most heat networks today run on natural gas, in the future this fuel supply can be switched to sustainable technologies such as heat pumps. The proportion of UK heating delivered via heat networks is projected to rise from 2% today to at least 17% (and as much as 43%) by 2050. Despite this, many district heating projects in the UK have problems in their design, commissioning and maintenance that lead to poor efficiency and operational problems. The result is increased CO2 emissions, higher bills for households and financial challenges for some heat suppliers.
“Energy and heating can be an invisible cost for social landlords as we take on the role of heat suppliers. Guru has helped us to understand how to make our heating network more efficient, minimise costs for our tenants, and support those at risk of fuel poverty.”
Eamon Somers, Consultant Development Manager, Octavia Housing
Guru Systems solves the problems above by installing a ‘Hub’ in each residence connected to a heat network, to capture data from the existing heat meter and wirelessly send it to Guru’s Pinpoint software, where it is analysed. The Hub also gives the household information on their energy use, provides pay-as-you-go billing services, and can capture data from other utility meters too. By gathering large amounts of metering data from a heat network and analysing it, Pinpoint is able to understand how the network is working and identify problems that could not realistically be found through manual maintenance checks.
Faults with the heat interface units found in every residence can be picked up, and errors such as bypass valves being left open after commissioning are flagged. Because of the way heat networks operate, it only takes one or two such faults to cause the efficiency of the whole network to drop dramatically. But by providing clear information to the manager of the heat network, Guru enables them to correctly target maintenance, thus saving time, cutting energy waste and reducing household bills.
Guru’s services are beneficial during commissioning of a new building too, where it can dramatically reduce the time taken to check a residence’s heating connection is operating correctly and make a check of all residences on a network viable, rather than the current practice of checking a small sample. Data collected by Guru can also assist developers at the design stage, where its experience of a range of different heat networks enables it to give advice on correct sizing of boilers and pumps.
Impact on customers
Guru’s work brings benefits for households, heat network operators and the environment. Households see heating tariffs drop by up to 50%, reducing bills and lowering the risk of fuel poverty and also have a more reliable and usable heating service. Given that households on heat networks cannot choose who they buy heat from, these benefits are particularly significant. Heat network operators benefit from being able to reduce prices, as they often have a goal of improving the welfare of their customers, and their maintenance operations can be better planned and targeted because of the information provided by Guru about network performance.
Pay-as-you-go billing is also important for managing customer debt, especially for housing associations supplying heat, as they are prohibited from profiting from heat supply so have no financial buffer to cover bad debt. The environmental benefit is significant, as reductions of up to 75% are possible for heat loss and energy used for pumping, leading to estimated CO2e savings of 595kg/year per Guru Hub, or about 18,000 tonnes in 2020. The longer lasting impact is improving the reputation of district heating as an efficient way of delivering low-carbon domestic heat, as it will play a crucial role in the years to come as the UK works towards net-zero status.