Fabien Kuchler is an engineer for Swiss engineering company ELIMES. Here, he explains how he and his colleagues are working on a monitoring system for a low-temperature heating and cooling network they previously designed. By controlling the timing of heat pump functions in 13 buildings using a specially designed algorithm with the academic partner HES-SO Valais-Wallis, they hope to test different regulation models, which can for example reduce energy consumption and provide greater flexibility to power grid managers.

Fabian

I work for ELIMES, an engineering firm in Brig, Switzerland. In 2012, before the beginning of the Sim4Blocks project, we planned the low-temperature district heating and cooling network of the Krommen Kelchbach district in Naters, Switzerland. Now, as part of Sim4Blocks, we are working on monitoring the system in order to make it more efficient.

The first two years of the project will be hard work for us because we have to install various new electronic parts in the network, including new gateways on the heat pumps, and electric and thermal counters on the network. The network covers 13 buildings, and since it has been built for a couple of years now, we have had to change or adapt some parts for getting information on real time data due to the rapidly changing technology in this area.

We are now in a very important phase that involves testing the gateways. This should allows us to get all the data we need for the algorithm and different models that Sim4blocks partner HES-SO will develop, who are based in Sion. This algorithm will thermally regulate the network.

One thing we have had to learn is that we need to improve our relationship and communication with the residents and the owners of the infrastructure. We thought that it would be easy to install the materials and tell the people what we are working on and how it might help to reduce energy consumption. As it turns out, people are not deeply interested in district heating networks! During an event we held for users during the last consortium meeting, the main questions were not about risk or about the technology – they were about whether or not people would be paying more money if the network is managed differently. Essentially, we were too quick, technical and impersonal. In the future, we need to make sure to explain to tenants why we do things, why it is interesting, and why they would perhaps end up paying less and using less energy, and involve the owners of the infrastructure (heat and electricity provider) much more in order to persuade the tenants to be part of the project.

 We are now finished with installing the last smart gateways and plan to test them during the summer. That will permit our company and HES-SO to use the heat pumps differently and command them remotely. The first step will be to test if this system works, and see if there is an impact on the thermal comfort of the buildings. Our goal during the coming months is to alter their function at different times of the day to see the impact on the temperature and comfort levels and to measure the energy consumption (plus some other important variables). Then, during the coming winter season, we will try and implement a new algorithm for the heat pump regulation in order to test different models of regulation and look at the results. The goal is, of course, to help achieve the objectives of Sim4Blocks. We want to achieve a level of electrical flexibility with the heat pumps and then calculate how big a margin of flexibility we have.