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District heating faces shake up

Around 300,000 homes across the UK have no way of knowing exactly how much energy they consume. But thanks to government legislation released last year, that could be about to change.

The heat networks legislation requires meters to be installed in individual properties on new schemes and existing heat networks where cost-effective and technically possible, with a shift from an apportioned bill basis – where a resident is charged for their “share” of a total bill – to metered consumption.

Operators of both new and existing district heat networks are also now required to install meters at the energy entry point to a building.

If operators do not abide by these laws, they could face criminal prosecution. It is expected that these regulations will have a major effect on energy consumption in the UK.

Research has found that a shift from an apportioned bill to metered consumption can result in reductions in consumption of between 10% and 40%.

In addition to reducing end consumption, these regulations are a positive step in the right direction with regards to improving overall energy efficiency. It may seem like a small thing, but the addition of meters can enable very significant improvements – after all, it is very hard to improve what you can not measure.

By installing building-level meters, we are now getting a first view on the performance of a number of heat networks.

That the efficiency level for a number of these legacy networks is poor should not be a surprise, given that operators have had no way to evaluate performance.

The good news is that by putting in the meters required by the new regulations and monitoring performance, we now have the information that will enable us to improve efficiency.

In a recent Department of Energy & Climate Change-funded project, my company assessed opportunities for improving performance at four different heat networks. It concluded that system efficiency increases of 20% could be achieved through a series of relatively minor interventions.

We are now working on technology that harvests data from meters to create a web-based platform to enable heat network operators to assess network performance and evaluate the cost benefits of measures to improve them.

This is all enabled by having a base platform of meters in place.

Together, a combination of reductions in consumption and improved efficiency will translate into considerable reductions in energy bills for consumers.

It will also significantly reduce CO2 emissions, which is vital if we are to achieve our longer-term carbon targets.

As such, the new heat network regulations represent a very positive step forward for the heating market.

Gareth Jones is director of Guru Systems

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