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Turku: ‘The Digital Twin helps to deliver reliable and affordable heat’

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Since April, we have been working with Jani Uitti, Senior Network Asset Manager at Turku Energia to provide more insights into their network and further decarbonize their heating system. In these turbulent times, we have taken the opportunity to ask Jani about his vision on the challenges and opportunities in district heating. ‘Understanding heat propagation by making a digital copy of the network can help with peak shaving and reduce the usage of our oil boilers’.

Finland is a ‘top 3’ country in Europe in terms of district heating adoption (50%) and percentage of renewable energy used (58%), according to the recent market report by Euroheat & Power. Turku Energia is a district heating company in the southwest of Finland, supplying energy to about 5,000 customers and around 190,000 end users, for about 2,000 GWh heat per year, through 650 km of network with tunnel and surface networks combined.

Turku has partnered with Gradyent to further decrease its reliance on fossil fuels. By developing a Digital Twin of the heating system Turku aims to gather insights into the heat propagation through the network to lower the cost of production and decrease the reliance on oil boilers. We spoke to Jani right after his holiday, when he was diving in caves and deep-sea forests. Besides being keen on adventures in his personal life, Jani has an exciting challenge on his hands: leading Turku’s network on their journey towards carbon neutrality.

Back to work! Turku is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2029 when the city is celebrating its 800th anniversary. What is Turku’s main obstacle in reaching this goal?

‘The main challenge for Turku’s district heating network to become fully carbon neutral is the high peak demand that is experienced during the morning hours. To supply the system during peak demand, the oil boilers are turned on to provide a quick supply of hot water to the network. Understanding the mechanisms of heat propagation in the network can help with peak shaving and better controlling the heating supply to rely less on the oil boilers, which have a higher carbon footprint.’

The Turku network is doing very well with 93% efficiency and sources that are 80% renewable. What were the main actions that helped Turku get there?

‘Turku Energia has managed to raise the share of renewable production by showing courage, that’s the most important thing. There were moments when some investments did not seem so smart as they were not profitable, but they were good for the environment. For example, investing in a multi-fuel power plant which was commissioned in 2017 was seen as something risky at the time. We took the risk, and it has made a huge impact contributing to decreasing the network’s carbon footprint. Also using shunting technology from the 90s has also helped the network become more efficient by varying supply temperatures through varying flow.’

What software systems have you been using and what was missing for you?

‘There are a lot of different technical systems that we use to visualize and control our network. For example, a GIS system is used to visualize the network, having an accurate network file with pipe diameters, lengths and pathways is an important step towards doing any sort of dynamic modelling. A big bottleneck is getting the systems to talk with each other showing temperatures, flows and pressures in the relevant areas. Most of the operational decisions are based on an interpretation of these multi-system outputs, assessed by operators and then an operational decision is made.’

Why did you choose to work with Gradyent?

‘I wanted to reduce the usage of our oil boilers through dynamic modelling. Having a technical and modelling background of 10 years myself, I knew what parties were out there. I enjoyed the technical depth presented in the demos given by Gradyent. The approachability of the team and the technical language your team speaks gave me the comfort I needed.’

What do you think of the cooperation so far?

‘I have been very impressed with the data validation workshop where the Gradyent team came to the control rooms of Turku Energia and gave a presentation on the data that they had received from the users and sources of the network. The team presented the network in a new way and gave some nice visuals on the heat movements between users. I also appreciate that the people at Gradyent speak the same language as us and that they understand the physics behind the network hydraulics.’

What do you expect the Digital Twin will bring Turku?

‘Ideally, we can prevent the firing up of one oil boiler during the morning peak by following a peak shaving strategy, using the heat propagation dynamics of the system. Even saving 1 GWh of oil would significantly benefit the Turku network. I expect that in the future the Digital Twin will enable our operators to make smarter and quicker decisions in operating the network.’

Looking ahead to the Finnish District Heating Days. What topic would you recommend?

‘An interesting topic would be how to use digitalisation to reach optimal supply temperatures and network accumulation and how that can be achieved with modelling. Dynamic modelling through the Digital Twin technology can help optimize heat transfer capacity of a network inside one day. Using the sensor data, a model of the network can be created to see what is preventing a company from lowering their supply temperatures.’

All Finnish district heating companies are working hard towards carbon neutrality. What is one thing that everybody should be doing?

‘All new buildings built after March 2022 will be required to operate a maximum temperature of 90 °C instead of the current 120 °C. This means that networks should be able in handling the heat transfer capacity throughout the network with higher flow rates. Lower temperature requirements for customers means higher flow rates in the pipeline and hence larger pressure losses. Finnish district heating companies should be looking into digitalization to optimize their networks within these new requirements. Dynamic modelling can be very supportive to make heating available and affordable to all customers.’

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