Customer Application

25 September 2020
Digitization as the Basis of Sector Coupling

Sector coupling, digitization and customer orientation – these are the focuses of the energy service provider Avacon Natur. They increase the efficiency of the energy systems and district heating systems and provides demand-driven information. Above all, sector coupling – integrated control for heat, electrical and electromobility – requires digital data acquisition.

“Digitization is the glue that holds sector coupling together and makes efficient solutions for neighborhoods and districts possible,” says Andreas Klesse, Board Member of Avacon Natur GmbH. The company is a subsidiary of the regional energy service provider Avacon AG – itself a part of E.ON – and operates CHP plants, heating networks, heating service systems and a wide range of renewable energy systems in Saxony-Anhalt, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse. It currently has 80 employees and continues to grow.

Product Overview

The Energy Transition Will Be Driven by Customers

After the first phase of the energy transition, which mostly took place in the electricity sector and focused on the expansion requirements of renewable energies, the second phase will be driven by customers – and their needs are changing. Customers are increasingly becoming prosumers, who play an active role in the energy system. This shifts the challenge from pure energy supply to integrated solutions for heating, electricity and electromobility.

Innovative energy solutions can be easily and efficiently implemented for new residential and business districts. Such development allows an integrative view of the energy requirements during the planning phase already, which allows the energy supply of a district to be optimized. This notwithstanding, Avacon Natur implements these solutions for both new construction and existing districts.

The challenge is to coordinate the supply of electricity, as well as heat from CHP plants, photovoltaic plants and other heat producers, with customer demand in the district. This requires precise data, which has to be collected and processed digitally. The system distribution boxes from WAGO that Avacon Natur uses for this purpose are ideal for the data acquisition.

Climate-Friendly Energy Solutions

In the Salzwedel metropolitan area, the company is already testing such climate-friendly energy solutions. Avacon Natur operates a complex power generation structure there, with combined heat and power (CHP) plants, photovoltaic systems and power-to-heat plants. A combination of centralized and decentralized heat generation has been implemented successfully. The residents also benefit, since so-called tenant electricity models make cost-optimized power supply possible for them. Furthermore, smaller CHP plants are connected to the Salzwedel district heating grid and efficiently provide electricity and heat in combination with a photovoltaic system. Surplus generated heat is fed into the existing heating network.

Digitizing the Heating Network

Digitization is also advancing in existing systems.. The focus here is on increasing the efficiency of the district heating network. Avacon Natur is currently equipping about 100 energy systems with WAGO system distribution boxes for data acquisition. One of them, in the Bockelsberg district of Lüneburg, supplies heat to Leuphana University and an adjacent residential district, and also cold air to the main auditorium building of the university for the server rooms and air-conditioning the lecture halls. The Avacon local heating network at this site consists of three sub-networks and is 2 miles (3.3 km) long. It includes 55 transmission stations in the residential neighborhood and a central heat transfer point for the university. The downstream network on the campus is the responsibility of Leuphana University.

The sub-networks are operated at different flow temperatures. The CHPs installed there are the heart of the heat generation and are supplied with renewable energy in the form of biogas. Digitization of the heating network should allow them to fully exploit their heat/power coupling potential through even more intelligent operation. Frequently running the motors up and down negatively impacts the service life and efficiency. Digitization can also fix this.

The district heating station of the Bockelsberg district heating network in Lüneburg is located right next to the main auditorium building of Leuphana University.

Added Value through the Cloud

“If we know what temperatures are effectively present in the network, we can control the CHP plants more efficiently,” explains Andreas Klesse. Therefore, Avacon Natur couples the network temperature data to the forecast profiles and the data from the district heating station. In this case, the WAGO system distribution box collects all the important values such as the heat quantities, flow rates and supply and return temperatures. The motor data of the CHP plants is added to this.

A central component of the specialized WAGO system distribution box is the PFC200 controller. It comprises a power supply, a circuit breaker, 16 digital inputs, 4 analog inputs, an M-Bus master module and transfer terminals blocks for the sensors and actuators. An SD card slot is also available, making software updates very straightforward, for example.

This system distribution box configuration ensures that one piece of hardware meets all the requirements of the various Avacon Natur energy systems. “The WAGO system distribution box made according to our specifications, the Avacon Natur Cloud Box, offers us a tailored solution that is scaleable at will,” says Lars Baumann, Team Leader of Asset Management at Avacon Natur.

Besides the specialized hardware, WAGO created a CODESYS application on the basis of Avacon Natur’s specifications. The connection of M-Bus meters can be configured using the Web interface in the PFC200, and the digital inputs can be configured as pulse counter inputs or fault message inputs. Avacon Natur’s team of measurement and control technology experts handles installation and commissioning. Jörn von Hörsten, a member of this team, adds: “The Web interface is enormously practical, especially during commissioning. It provides an immediate overview of how the energy data is sent to the cloud environment.”

» In addition to collecting data through open interfaces, the WAGO system also allows us to model technical control and regulation functions. «

Lars Baumann, Team Leader of Asset Management at Avacon Natur

Programming Freedom, Maximum Security

The industry standard, support for open protocols, fieldbus independence and the flexibility of CODESYS programming freedom were additional points in favor of the WAGO system. “In addition to collecting data through open interfaces, the WAGO system also makes it possible for us to model technical control and regulation functions,” says Baumann. “In WAGO, we found a strong partner with whom we can collaborate on further development of our projects and the ideal programming for them,” emphasizes Klesse. For the initial data analysis of its energy systems and heating networks, Avacon Natur uses the WAGO Cloud, which is based on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. This allows asset management employees at company headquarters, and also the employees distributed throughout the system, to examine the data of all the energy systems at any time. The WAGO Cloud stores all the measurement data and serves as the interface to Avacon Natur’s existing energy data management system, which also runs on the MS Azure platform. This energy data management system performs automatic plausibility checks of the meter readings, monitors the efficiency of the energy systems and is used for reporting. Besides functional aspects, it also illuminates security issues. The hardened firmware and the encryption of all data practically rule out third-party access to the data in the cloud.

Jörn von Hörsten monitors the measurement and control technology at Avacon Natur.

» In WAGO, we found a strong partner with whom we can collaborate on further development of our projects and the ideal programming for them. «

Andreas Klesse, CEO of Avacon Natur GmbH

Forecast-Based Network Control

In Bockelsberg, Avacon Natur is also conducting a pilot project to test to what degree weather forecasts can increase the efficiency of the heating network. The load profile of the coming day is forecast on the basis of historical load profiles and the weather conditions, and the heat generation is adjusted accordingly. The storage management is optimized in combination with a thermal energy storage system to cap the temporary load peaks – always with the goal of maximizing the co-generation potential.

However, Avacon is looking even further into the future with the forecast-based method and will also incorporate electricity market data into the optimization process, since such methods are necessary in order to integrate distributed heat generators that fluctuate in time, such as solar thermal collectors and power-to-heat plants or industrial waste heat, into a heating network.

In addition to sector coupling in new districts and increasing efficiency in existing systems, Board Member Andreas Klesse also cites a further motivation for digitizing heating networks: This makes it possible to provide certain data to customers. For example, housing companies can handle tenant billing quickly and reliably.

Text: Lars Kühn | WAGO
Photo: Dirk Eisermann

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