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Is digital PAYG heat metering the future?

Heat network metering is the latest thing to go digital, with significant cost and time-saving benefits for installers, social housing landlords and residents, says Douglas Norton, product manager for metering solutions at SAV Systems 

We’ve witnessed the growth of apps in virtually every type of customer transaction, from ordering takeaways to remotely charging electric vehicles. In each case, the customer interface to physical devices, controls and systems has been transformed, and, more often than not, some backend hardware has been eliminated if not completely redesigned. The public is used to this and now expects it.

So when it comes to heat networks, why are we still using additional hardwired solutions such as IHDs (In-Home Display devices) or sending pieces of paper back and forth for credit billing, particularly when all involved parties – landlords, residents and you, the M&E contractor – can save time and make big cost savings?

Late last year, Insite Energy and SAV Systems launched an app-based metering solution for heat networks. Kurve is designed to provide heat network operators a way to offer residents all the flexibility, convenience, and functionality of a digital pay-as-yougo (PAYG) system but at a much more accessible cost. Functionalities such as full account management, including payment, and the display of heat consumption data, have only been available previously with premium prepayment metering solutions. These have proven to be out-of-reach to low-cost developments outside of the London market and particularly to those in the social housing sector.

This long called-for shake-up of the sector offers heating contractors a new product solution to offer to their developer, local authority, and housing association customers, particularly those social landlords confined to credit billing for recovering their heat costs. Importantly, new digital technologies offer a simple product package and installation, making them attractive to engineers.

Kurve’s design retains some familiar elements such as the standard wired M-Bus network. Most importantly, the in-property system arrives pre-wired and does not require a conventional IHD device. These are differences which not only cut down on installation and commissioning time, but also deliver ongoing savings throughout the product’s lifecycle. In fact, overall capex savings are estimated to be over 55% – a welcome prospect for social housing providers working with already strained budgets.

The KURVE cabinet comes pre-assembled and houses a Kamstrup Master, Moxa and 4G Router – all connected in advance. So, for the on-site team, it’s just a question of connecting up to mains power, the ADSL and the M-Bus network.

With the vast majority of the installation work carried out off-site beforehand, as opposed to by the contractor on site in the plantroom and in individual properties, time spent on site is dramatically reduced. There is no need for on-the-ground technicians to receive high-level technical training as much of the work has been done in advance.

There is no requirement to open the Heat Interface Unit (HIU) – flying leads are provided for mains, thermostat, and M-Bus connections. The HIU contains an integral energy meter, which is pre-wired to control the prepayment valves and pump. The Kamstrup heat meter (403 or 603) is pre-wired and pre-calibrated, while the HIU is pre-checked to ensure it is ready on delivery.

In addition, the position of the PAYG valves in the unit means that minimum pump flow can be maintained at all times. This not only avoids the drawbacks of installing system bypasses – both in terms of resources and the negative impact on the return temperature – but also ensures chemicals are constantly circulating through the system.

On the customer interface side, the familiar IHD is replaced by a web-based app. While this equates to immediate savings by reducing purchasing outlay for equipment, it also has wider implications for the system’s overall carbon footprint which is lower as a result. This is an added advantage that is likely to appeal to local authorities and housing associations tasked with improving environmental credentials.

The app allows residents to view, monitor, manage and make payments to their energy account from any internet-connected device, 24/7, from any location. By making consumption data available in this way, it gives residents greater control; meaning they are more likely to keep track of their account and remain in positive credit. The ability to tailor payment levels according to criteria set by the heat provider is also a highly beneficial feature in this context.

Ideally, this detailed picture of energy use will also encourage a better understanding of energy spend, highlight areas for improvement, and help to reduce energy waste.

The first housing developments using digital heat metering and billing will go live later this year. We can expect to see a gradual shift away from hard-wired, complicated systems to simpler, customer-focused solutions, corresponding with the growth of heat networks and increased consumer protection legislation. 

12 August 2020

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