by Linda Bertelsen
Brønderslev, @Jesper Larsen, Luftfoto Danmark

– Useful results for further digital developments

In the later years, dynamic changes in society and the demand for energy-efficient solutions pushes the energy sector towards digitalization. The HEAT 4.0 provides access to new digital inventions on a cooperative basis and has taken a huge leap to secure data exchange in a common system-independent infrastructure.

By Alfred Heller – Managing Director, DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark and Eva Lange Rasmussen, Communication expert, NIRAS

The overall objective within the project HEAT 4.0 is to integrate intelligent IT solutions in a new digital framework to reach a holistic district heating (DH) approach, previously presented in Hot Cool. The HEAT 4.0 addresses the digital needs of the whole sector, from the production site over distribution to the end-users, and creates synergy between the design, operation, maintenance, and delivery of DH. Such solutions we call Cross System Services (CSS) and are based on cooperation between components suppliers, scientists at universities, DH companies, consultants, and, essential for this article, a common platform provider.

Data-based optimization and common sharing platform for concrete services

The work of this project is mainly based on combining already existing IT tools in the DH sector. The purpose is to build a new bridge between today’s different software operating systems to connect systems and exchange and use data securely and more intelligently to obtain innovative and holistic solutions.

The methods developed in HEAT 4.0 have typically been based on digital models derived from DH systems in operation today. Therefore, the used methods are relatively simple but still reproduce reality as well as possible and create a satisfactory concept for further evolution.

The solution can be divided into two steps of methods:

  1. The first and most straightforward method lets the individual IT models/software share their data insights, called peer-to-peer (p2p). For example, consumers (buildings) share their heating demand forecast with the network component (distribution). The network software can include this information to improve the correctness of its own model. It can hereafter share its predicted operation (flow and temperature) with the production component that optimizes the heat production accordingly.
    In a more advanced solution, the involved software tools give feedback information to each other. For example, the production component could ask to shift demand in time to avoid bottlenecks in production or critical load in the network. The network and building optimization tools would analyze whether this is possible and return updated predictions. Other scenarios could be envisaged.
  2. A system-independent data-sharing platform is established for communication between tools and the DH infrastructure. This common platform enables any digital system to share data (inclusive prediction and setpoints for controlling district heating). In future versions, the platform will also be able to host common algorithms and software components.

The ICT infrastructure of HEAT 4.0 (very simplified drawing). In the center, you have the consortium-common infrastructure part (cloud). The partner companies' digital tools and services can be provided through the 'common cloud,' enabling the DH operators to choose any combination of services

Figure 1: The ICT infrastructure of HEAT 4.0 (very simplified drawing). In the center, you have the consortium-common infrastructure part (cloud). The partner companies’ digital tools and services can be provided through the ‘common cloud,’ enabling the DH operators to choose any combination of services.

Data management is the central starting point.

DH companies are used to handling all their data within their individual IT infrastructure and SCADA systems. Communication with the surroundings was not applied. Aiming at a much more complex control of the next-generation DH demands a change in mind. Data must be communicated in a secure manner to enable a more efficient operation of the entire district system and other services.

The HEAT 4.0 solution has succeeded in developing a ‘common data platform’ which will guarantee the quality of data by, e.g., validating data, entering missing data, and resampling data to the necessary sampling rates. It also enables DH operators to choose and replace digital services and connect them with plug-and-play technologies through standard data interfaces.

The project partner Center Denmark, a non-profit organization, is in charge of developing this new, commercial cloud platform within the HEAT 4.0 project, enabling business-based value chains. The versions of CSS p2p mentioned above are implemented on this platform for the involved three DH companies. Standardized data exchanging interfaces are tested and ready. Generalized versions are under development, enabling other software firms to involve.

The objective is a secure, efficient, and adaptable platform that will save integration hours for the DH companies, making data much more intelligent and giving operators freedom of choice. At the same time, the platform supports the operators in meeting the privacy regulations known as GDPR.

Demand for an agile system architecture

Within the HEAT 4.0 project, three DH plants are involved in testing the innovations’ ideas, but no DH system in Denmark looks the same. Two of the three DH companies, Bronderslev DH Ltd. and Hillerod Forsyning, have their own and various production sites. In contrast, the energy company TREFOR Varme buys heat from a heat distributor.

Since 2014, Bronderslev Forsyning has already installed e-meters, whereas Hillerod Forsyning has not. This means that the components involved are different at the three sites. From a HEAT 4.0 perspective, this variation is a technological advantage as it ensures the robustness of the project results and solutions developed.

The DH companies are using first-generation tools that are working independently. The IT tools usually are directly integrated into their SCADA systems – a cumbersome task that often leads to high costs and high time expenditure. In the HEAT 4.0 project, the data integration solutions were developed and standardized, inspired by Industry 4.0, general ICT- and security guidelines. This relatively simple adoption enables the companies to integrate easily and operationally with any IT service provided from outside.

Case studies – lessons learned – and valuable results

TREFOR Varme was the first DH company within the project to raise the demand for a ‘common infrastructure component.’ Thanks to their steadfastness and their enormous organizational effort to ‘digitize’ their internal system, the HEAT 4.0 partners can refer to precious insights and experiences from this case study.

TREFOR Varme introduced a cross-utility ICT strategy that highlights security and robustness. Based on these strict regulations, the current HEAT 4.0 Cross-System Optimization (CSO) solution is set in place because it empowers the company to control external services similar to internal hardware and control systems. This was impossible a few years ago, when all controls had to be placed physically within the company property.

The head of the DH department, Helge S. Hansen, put it this way:

"Our motivation for joining the HEATman project was partly to contribute experiences and knowledge about the digitization of the heating sector and not least to do so in a cyber-secure way. Next, to try to pull the industry in the direction of an integration function, as our own vision was to integrate up to a single "common integrator" [technology]. The new IT solution was integrated by HEAT 4.0 ready software suppliers and the benefits of this co-operation we are to achieve these days."

From their own experiences, TREFOR Varme concludes that it is a good idea for DH plants, in general, to let other competent specialists handle IT integration at a time when systems and threats from cybercrime have become significantly more complex. In a few bullets, they sum up the specific results they have achieved through their project involvement so far:

  • As a cyber-secure connection, high data security is to be predetermined by one integrator, who continuously optimizes and improves the concept. In other words, secure data exchange can be used for the entire district heating sector.
  • There are fewer problems with incorrect data and economic and time savings through standardized technical integration and “one integrator contact.”
  • The secured data exchange between several software systems enables smaller DH companies, especially, to digitize.
HEAT 4.0 takes the district heating sectorinto the next digital level” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 1/2022, You can download the article here:
HEAT 4.0 takes the district heating sector into the next digital level - Hot Cool no 1-2021

Meet the authors

Alfred Heller
Managing Director, DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark
Eva Lange Rasmussen
Communication consultant NIRAS