The ability to adapt: district heat networks & covid-19

Welcome Energy explores how the district heating sector is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of district heating following COVID-19.

By JOSH ELLISON

19 June 2020

The story so far

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted widespread concern among UK energy customers as to whether their supply would be maintained despite the logistical and financial challenges posed by UK lockdown. The big six were quick to remind customers that the benefit of a drop in commercial activity meant that domestic energy supplies ran no risk of shortage and that extraordinary polices would be adopted to meet their needs during this challenging time. Reassuringly, the same measures were extended to district heat network users last Friday as well. An announcement from the Heat Networks Industry Council (HNIC) states that a new consumer protection agreement has been reached that offers users similar protections as those granted by the big six. After meeting with the Council and the ADE, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng had this to say:

“The coronavirus pandemic is affecting every household in this country. It is vital that customers know there is support available if they have difficulty in paying their energy bills.”

Kwasi Kwarteng

The measures include, but are not limited to, identifying and prioritising at-risk customers and those who have been financially impacted, supporting prepay customers to stay on supply and informing, advising and guiding customers throughout the crisis as to what help is available.

a roof of multicoloured umbrellas

Putting customer needs at the heart of operations during lockdown was a key theme of the agreements which Chair of the HNIC, Dan McGrail, echoed:

“The heat network industry recognises the challenges vulnerable and low-income customers might face during this pandemic. These consumer protection measures reflect a trajectory we have been on for some time…”

Dan McGrail

The view ahead

The HNIC has demonstrated with today’s announcement that the district heat networks of the UK share a common goal of customer welfare with other energy supply chains. However, that may be where their similarities end when it comes to COVID-19, fears are widespread of a major dip in energy markets post-lockdown.

However, district heat networks are finding that their unique infrastructure has created a surprising level of resilience to the conditions imposed by COVID-19.

The variety of viable sources means that the disruption of individual supply chains won’t necessarily halt essential operations, hence flexibility being equitable to resilience.

Unfortunately, many heat networks are still bound by one form of rigidity: the need for local, human input-whose limitations have never been more starkly obvious than during lockdown.

The reliance of localised meter reading and collection and calculation on physical proximity between engineer, agent or customer undermines any resilience the system might have had during such a crisis. Automatic metre reading and billing services, therefore, become not only attractive but essential to maintain accurate billing and usage records at this time.

Welcome Energy specialises in this type of remote access, we are an agile metering and billing agent for communal and district heating networks and want to help support district heating schemes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.