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This year’s Heat and Decentralised Energy conference explores the pace of change that’s happening in our energy system. Whilst it feels like everything is changing faster than ever, perhaps it’s more the case that there’s not one consistent pace of change. Rather, some changes are coming like Lewis Hamilton in 7th gear whilst others are more like following a tractor down the A303 (if you never have, think yourself lucky…).

The pace of change isn’t about change in itself; it’s about what you’re trying to achieve.

Building networks takes time, for example – whether you’re expanding the gas network to off-grid properties, digging a heat network in a city centre or reinforcing the power grid in an area of growing renewable generation.

Product development is considerably quicker, especially for technology-driven products where you can problem-solve through software updates once a device is already in someone’s home.

Social movements and campaigns can take a long time to be born but then explode in public consciousness: think back a year or two and consider how many people were talking about single-use plastics.

Change, left to happen organically, takes as long as it takes.

But what if there’s a deadline?

If we’re serious about global and national ambitions to reduce carbon emissions, then the organic approach may not be enough.

The dramatic take-up in global renewable capacity, particularly solar PV, was interventionist: subsidise the product until it can sustain itself. The heat network market in the UK is about to go through a similar phase with the injection of more than £300m through the Heat Network Investment Project.

But sometimes money is not enough. Innovation and change can happen at speed, but our institutions may be holding us back. Regulatory frameworks could be more agile, fostering innovation whilst still protecting consumers. Planning decisions could be made more quickly whilst still protecting the interests of local communities.

What we need is a clear narrative around the need for change in our energy system, just as we’ve heard a clear narrative about plastics in the past year. We need to share how our system will change and take people on a journey with us. And we need to encourage our institutions to take decisions more quickly, without regret, in a culture which recognises that we are trying to achieve something different with our energy system, something cleaner and fairer for all.

Are you frustrated in the slow lane or struggling to keep up with the speedsters? Join us at on Thursday 29 November at Heat and Decentralised Energy 2018 to share your perspective and hear from expert speakers including:

  • Katie Black, Director of Policy, National Infrastructure Commission
  • Emma Floyd, Project Director, Heat Networks Investment Project
  • Stefan Hakansson, Global Director for City Energy Solutions , E.ON SE
  • Chris Stark, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change
  • Innovators from across the energy networks and technologies sector

Book your place now at http://heatconference.co.uk/booknow. Discounts are available for SMEs, public sector organisations, academics, students and charities.

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Type “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do” into Google and you’ll get more than 2.8 million search results. It’s become a business truism – of course we do that – if not a cliché. So how is the district heating sector making those words meaningful?

District heating can be a tricky customer proposition to manage, presenting a specific set of challenges relating to customer engagement and experience. Customers are generally required to sign long term contracts and are not able to switch supplier. They are likely to pay the same, or very similar rates as their neighbours – and before the advent of heat meters this was often irrespective of the amount of heat used. At the same time, district heating projects are expensive capital projects where risk needs to be shared among many partners.

So how is industry tackling these challenges? In some truly inspirational ways which leave no doubt that putting the customer at the heart of what they do is key to success.

Heat Trust launched in 2015 as a customer protection scheme for people living on heat networks. Its vision is that all heat customers should be assured dependable heat supplies and excellent customer service. The customer service standards set by Heat Trust are overseen by an independent Stakeholder Committee, which is responsible for ensuring the standards remain fit-for-purpose and proposing amendments to drive forward continued improvement.  

In just two years, it has grown to cover 51 heat networks and more than 30,200 customers. Its recent annual report found that only 6% of customers on heat networks made a complaint, compared to 11% on standard electricity or gas supplies. The most common causes for complaint related to billing issues (74%); within this, the most frequent topic was standing charges (54%). Heat Trust provides a route through which complaints can be taken to the Energy Ombudsman, ensuring that district heating customers are offered the same levels of support and protection as others within the energy system. Their growing data set is helping the industry to identify the real issues that householders face and discover new and innovative ways of putting the customer in control.

ADE members Pinnacle Power are proud of the approach to customer engagement that they have put in place at Greenwich Peninsula in London. The basis behind the structure for the Greenwich Peninsula ESCo, GPEL, which owns the heat network infrastructure, was to put the residents first so that they are confident they are getting value for the heat consumed from the network.  

Pinnacle Power has achieved this in part by getting buy-in from the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Greater London Authority to be a part of a Governance Committee. This governance agreement ensured that there was a committee, meeting quarterly, which would force compliance with appropriate pricing and customer service obligations. At every governance meeting, the company reports on all complaints, down-time, and repairs made on the network, so that the committee has a very transparent view of service levels. The committee acts as an escalation point and a point of comfort to residents.

At the recent ADE Awards, the Customer Engagement Award of the Decade was presented to Switch2, and it’s worth dwelling for a moment on the support that they offer to customers. Switch2 provide customer service and management for over 500 district heating schemes serving 70,000 customers. Resident Liaison Officers act as the bridge between customers, installation teams and network operators. Home visits are offered to new customers with clear demonstrations of heating controls, and further support is available through multiple channels and in multiple languages. Community energy clubs help local residents think more widely about their energy use. You can watch a short film about Switch2’s work with customers here.  

Companies like Switch2 and Pinnacle Power, along with those actively involved in Heat Trust are demonstrating that the district heating sector is taking steps towards “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do”. As more and more district heating networks are developed across the country, it is this commitment to openness, quality and fairness that will help bring them into the mainstream.

Putting the customer first is a key theme of Heat and Decentralised Energy 2017, a one-day conference on Thursday 30 November at The Crystal, London. You can register your place and join the debate at http://www.heatconference.co.uk/booknow


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£500 million.

That’s how much Government estimates could be saved from industrial sector energy bills through its proposed Industrial Heat Recovery Support Programme. Industrial heat recovery saves money, supporting business competitiveness; it also reduces carbon emissions and helps bring benefits to local communities through the export of heat through heat networks.

Industry has known about the potential for the recovery and recycling of heat for many years.

The Arla Foods milk processing facility near Aylesbury uses an innovative system designed and delivered by Edina. Two CHP engines are fuelled by a mix of natural gas and biogas generated through anaerobic digestion of waste products from the dairy’s processes. As well as using the power generated by the CHPs on site, most of the heat produced is captured and used in pasteurisation, homogenisation and for cleaning circuits.

At the Janssen Pharmaceutical plant in Cork, Finning CHP plant was installed to provide greater resilience and to reduce energy costs. As well as using power on site, the CHP generates heat in two ways. Exhaust gases are used to evaporate condensate return water to generate steam, whilst heat exchangers harvest heat from the engine water jacket circuit to produce low temperature hot water. These are both then used in industrial processes within the plant.

Despite the success stories, there are practical, commercial and organisational barriers to the development of heat recovery projects (and these are something that the new support programme should aim to address).  Identifying sources of waste heat and integrating them with existing systems can be a technical challenge. Capital is constrained, with many competing priorities for investment, all of which need to demonstrate returns in timescales that are attractive to industry. And many organisations lack the skills to develop and deliver these opportunities.

The Royal Mint is facing up to many of these challenges as  it strives to improve the efficiency of a range of highly energy-intensive processes. Electricity is itslargest energy expenditure, so it is considering using either CHP or a hydrogen generator for electricity and capturing the waste heat for space heating or for use in production processes. The Royal Mint is thinking more broadly: waste heat from smelting furnaces and other processes could also be captured for re-use. There are concerns, however: how to ensure that back-up heat is available whilst managing maintenance and repair costs; whether natural gas provides sufficient future-proofing for decarbonisation; how to capture waste heat and not simply add to the problem; and – a crucial challenge - how to create the time to assess the options in detail.

Reducing risk, unlocking capital investment and helping build knowledge and capacity among industrial organisations will be key to the success of heat recovery schemes. The support provided by BEIS for local authority-led heat networks in recent years has set a template for how Government can work with communities to deliver significant infrastructure projects; the hope is that the new Industrial Heat Recovery Support Programme will help to unlock similar potential within our manufacturing sector.

It’s a good news story for industry and manufacturing in a time of uncertainty. We’ll be talking more about the industrial sector at Heat and Decentralised Energy 2017. We’ll explore the importance of leadership in bringing forward the transformational projects that will build industrial competitiveness by cutting costs, maximising energy productivity and reducing the sector’s environmental impacts.

Join us on Thursday 30 November at The Crystal in London for Heat and Decentralised Energy 2017. You can book your place at http://www.heatconference.co.uk/booknow

Heat and Decentralised Energy 2017 is sponsored by Siemens and Exxon Mobil, and supported by EDF Energy, Centrica Business Solutions, Clarke Energy, Pinnacle Power, Rehau and SAV Systems.


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