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This blog was originally posted on networks.online.

Any heat network operator or customer will tell you that heat losses matter – a lot.

Losses that go unchecked can easily double the cost of heat on the network. But while everyone agrees it’s hugely important to limit losses, the way we talk about heat loss is all wrong. And heat network performance is suffering as a result.

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In 2016, the heat sector finally recognised the importance of performance data. Helped by companies like Guru, heat network operators began to obtain energy performance data from their networks.

The data sent shockwaves through the industry as many realised that their networks are not performing anything like what was promised, largely due to shortcomings in design and commissioning.

Using this information, the operators of these poorly performing networks could finally attach precise numbers to their long-held suspicions: that losses are high, that heat costs too much and that service can be unreliable. Of course, customers on bad networks already knew this from their own experiences of high bills, cooking corridors and intermittent heating and hot water.

As this awakening gathers pace, a key trend for 2017 will be the move towards quantified performance. Armed with clear requirements, clients will be more specific about what they want, and use measurement and verification to ensure they get it. ESCOs, having had their fingers burnt, will no longer be content to sample the performance on a limited number of dwellings before adopting a new network. Instead they will use performance data to verify that 100% of equipment in homes has been properly commissioned. In short, networks won’t be allowed to go into operation until they work as intended.

This change in approach will have huge implications for the industry.

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This post originally appeared on the CIBSE blog.

New buildings in the UK consume far more energy than intended by their designers – up to 10 times more according to an Innovate UK study. This performance gap doesn’t arise because we lack technology. Studies by the UKGBC and others conclude that it’s the result of failings throughout the project lifecycle, from concept to handover.

Performance gaps may arise because clients are unclear about what they want; project teams don’t understand the impact of their design choices; contractors substitute products and materials on the fly and then install them poorly; or quality assurance is lax, with employers’ agents either blind to the problems or willing to let shoddy work escape their net.

There’s no doubt about it – we’ve got trouble right here in the UK building industry. But innovation on its own won’t solve the problem. The Internet of Things isn’t coming to the rescue. Because the performance gap isn’t a technology problem – it’s a problem of people, information and accountability.

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Here’s a presentation I did at this year’s Utility Week Live about using data to improve the performance of heat networks. In it, I talk about why networks are often poorly delivered and operated and what can be done to put them right. Incidentally, I was also pretty ill and hopped up on flu meds but I think I got away with it.

UWL

 

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Operational data from onsite energy systems (like heat networks) is extremely hard to come by. Very few people manage to get hold of it, and those who have it rarely share.

What are the typical loads in dwellings? What are the network losses? Do customers all demand heating at the same time or are demand events spread out?

Who knows? Engineers don’t stick around and find out how their designs work in real life; ESCOs hold their cards close to their chests; and many landlords fail to extract or make use of their own data.

This dearth of data has hamstrung the industry at a time when it should be racing ahead. It’s one of the biggest reasons why, when it comes to energy performance, we’re just not getting better fast enough.

In late 2014, when DECC put out a call for proposals to improve heat networks, we saw a chance to unlock some of these data silos and accelerate development of the heat market.

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Randy Cambell knows: sometimes halfway is worse than nothing at all.

Randy Cambell knows: sometimes halfway is worse than nothing at all.

The Heat Network Code of Practice is likely to become intertwined with building regs. In particular, heat networks that comply with the Code could be treated more favourably under SAP.

But as I highlighted in the last post, we’ve got a problem: there’s currently no such thing as a Code-compliant heat network. For SAP to reference the Code, some form of Code compliance regime will be required.

DECC has said it wants to keep any such regime light touch, which seems reasonable. But, as I hope to describe in this post, a light touch regime could greatly damage the heat market. In other words, the wrong compliance regime would be worse than no regime at all.

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Last week, Bill Watts at M&E practice Max Fordham wrote a passionate rant against CHP and heat networks on the Construction Manager website.

The crux of Bill’s message is that real world losses on new build projects are higher than losses calculated using manufacturers’ specs and SAP. How much higher? Bill’s not sure – he says that only ESCOs know how well or how poorly heat networks are working. But in any case “much higher than we’ve been led to believe.”

A few days after the original article appeared, Construction Manager ran a follow up piece in which people from the building industry try to rebut Bill’s argument. In general the respondents make the case that CHP and DH have an important role to play in decarbonising heat, with several highlighting that the Heat Network Code of Practice should improve the performance of new networks.

But in my view the industry respondents missed the key point.

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