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Helen builds an energy platform of the future and develops a digital twin of the district heating network with Gradyent

Increasing real-time data on the operation of the heating network is one part of the transition to distributed energy production.

Helen is improving the efficiency of data collection and strengthening knowledge on the operation of its district heating network by building a so-called digital twin of the network. Helen selected the Dutch climate tech scaleup Gradyent as the partner for the first phase.

Network modelling is one part of the goal-oriented transition where Helen phases out the combustion of coal by spring 2024 and moves towards distributed energy production.

In the first phase, all district heating pipes, all plants, areas of use, heat inputs and various connection points will be digitalised, with the objective of gaining additional and more accurate data than before in order to understand the continuous operation of the network in various situations. After the first phase, Helen will move on to the next phase where continuous data is fed automatically into the digital twin for utilisation in network control and optimisation – while being able to forecast heat consumption at the same time.

“The more accurately we know, for example, what kinds of temperatures or pressure variations there are in the heating network, the more clearly we can optimise heat production and ensure heat supplies to all customers when the production of our major plants is phased out. This way we will be prepared and ready for the end of coal combustion at Hanasaari in 2023 and in Salmisaari in 2024,” says Timo Aaltonen, Helen’s SVP, Operations and Asset Management.

With digital network control, Helen aims to maintain operational reliability at an excellent level, although it is not possible to replace all production leaving along with the coal-fired boilers.

“Towards the customers, Helen’s operational reliability will improve further when possible bottlenecks or faults are detected as early as possible. In addition, some of the reserve capacity pertaining to the supply of heat can be reduced in the future when we will know accurately how the district heating network operates in extreme conditions, such as during freezing temperatures, and how heat production can be optimised with several different technologies also under normal circumstances,” Aaltonen continues.

In future, heat will be produced in Helsinki in a distributed way, i.e. major plants will be replaced with several different technologies and a multiple number of smaller energy sources. The entity of the future is wider and more complex than at present because there are much more data and various possibilities.

The building of a digital twin is the first phase towards a system where artificial intelligence is able to optimise production, distribution and consumption to enable minimisation of emissions, utilisation of waste heat and, for example, as efficient use of heat pumps as possible when the price of electricity changes. With control and optimisation, all customers will receive exactly the service that they need. Helen aims to be carbon neutral by year 2030.

Digital twin on the Gradyent platform

The bulk data collected from Helen’s heat production and customers’ consumption is being trained into the digital model now being built to ensure that it corresponds to the actual heating network as accurately as possible. Data is collected from up to 13,000 metering points. The bulk of collected data is huge because several different measured quantities of data for every hour have been collected from each site over the past three years. This equals more than a billion observations, and therefore it is clear that learning AI is needed in the management of the whole.

“We are extremely proud to work in partnership with Helen to transform the Helsinki district heating network, achieving a more sustainable and operationally efficient way of producing energy,” says Herve Huisman, CEO of Gradyent. “The digital twin of the district heating network will make it possible to analyse concrete scenarios, optimise supply vs demand, identify network bottlenecks, and study the embedding of new assets,” Huisman continues.

Sufficient heat supplies are safeguarded in many different ways

In addition to Helen’s ambitious climate targets, the current green technologies and innovations ensure sufficient heat supplies for our customers in a safe and cost-effective way.

In the future, many different types of environmental heat, waste heat from industry and data centres, and sustainably produced bioenergy will be at the front and centre of heat production.

Published: 07.04.2022 10:30