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Is it worth investing in digital technology in a boiler plant?

Boiler plants are going through their own digital transformation. Large facilities are almost systematically equipped with a system of Centralised Technical Management (CTM), which keeps operators constantly informed of the facility’s technical operating status but says little about its performance. A growing number of these plants accordingly now also have a digital solution to optimise their energy performance and more efficiently manage maintenance. But are these connected tools really a good investment for heating networks? Blu.e’s Energy Engineers give us their point of view.

Heating networks use digital tools to make them more efficient… and it works! Take the Rillieux-la-Pape district heating network near Lyon, for example. Since a digital solution was installed there, it has been maximising heat recovery and operating mostly on renewable energies (over 90%!). Another example is the Plaine Commune Énergie heating network in Île-de-France, which has boosted the efficiency of a biomass boiler plant by around 10% in just three months! “These examples alone would be enough to demonstrate the benefits of using a digital tool,” says Camille Boutinet enthusiastically. “But there’s a lot more to be gained by using a digital tool in a boiler plant!”

 

Free up time for the site operator

Site operators already contend with multiple demands on their time: HR (team work schedules, leave planning, etc.), administration (regulatory monitoring, etc.) and business (drawing up quotes, planning orders, etc.). These, on top of the core technical tasks, mean time is short. By standardising operating best practices, monitoring energy consumption in real time and automating the daily and monthly reporting of boiler plant performance indicators, the operator can spend more time focusing on core tasks and save on site operating costs.

 

Reduce the time spent on maintenance and repairs

Providing it is equipped with the right measurement and metering systems, the digital tool can easily pinpoint malfunctions in energy-producing equipment. The operational teams have no problem identifying and locating anomalies, which show up as a red light on their screen. They know immediately where to start looking, even if the malfunction has not yet been detected. It saves a huge amount of time: before the digital tool, workers had to inspect up to five or six points before they could identify the problem.

 

Choose the right cascade for bringing boilers online

On the strength of their experience, the operational teams had already worked out which settings yielded the best results and which boiler plant was more efficient than another. “On the other hand, no-one, up until now, knew what impact different settings had at the end of the line,” says Antoine Roland. “With the digital tool and its computational power, technicians can now cross-tabulate performance parameters and measure the influence of each. They now have access to previously invisible, buried information that they can use to more efficiently regulate the boiler plant and anticipate the order in which boilers should be brought online.” In practice, they know in advance the optimal scenarios for the site’s operation.

 

Make sound investment decisions based on tangible factors

When the time comes to choose a new piece of equipment, such as a variator, the choice can be guided by its theoretical performance. However there is no guarantee that the results will be better on the scale of the network. Based on the installation data, the digital tool identifies precisely which item is impeding overall performances. “Once the customer has seen the network’s mediocre results with the old equipment, it won’t hesitate to undertake work or replace the equipment at fault,” says Meryl Alexandre.

 

Get all of the site’s stakeholders talking to each other

The boiler plant operator, energy manager, industrial site manager and operational staff do not all have the same understanding of the “energy” issue.  The digital tool gives them graphs and analyses that will help them communicate effectively with each other. Better still, the employee in charge of monitoring energy consumption, generally the energy manager, will be able to show how operator best practices, machine settings and maintenance have affected running costs and energy savings.“The energy manager’s work has become more importantHe can demonstrate, in concrete facts and figures, the benefits obtained through his initiatives and the role of the field teams in these results.” A good way of linking theory and practice.

 

  |  In conclusion…

A digital tool in a boiler plant helps not only save energy but also save time in the operating schedule, reduce the time taken for repairs, optimise the heating network’s operation, change equipment for a purpose and showcase each stakeholder’s work.