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Oulun energia is striving for data underground – will district heating soon be sent to the cloud?

Oulun Energia, the regional energy company in Oulu, has more than 1,000 kilometres of pipes under the city. The conditions in the district heating network are challenging for new long-range technology that aims for significant financial benefits. As part of an experiment started in December, the company is monitoring the condition and other aspects of the network in real time.

Raine Jurva, Customer Account Manager at Telia, is waiting for Oulun Energia’s mechanic Anssi Jurva to appear in a manhole in the centre of Oulu. “Yes, we’ll be able to install a sensor here,” Jurva confirms.

Kimmo Alatulkkila, Director, Heat Services at Oulun Energia, wants to know what’s going on underground. Real-time data would make it easier to maintain the district heating network and could also prevent costly water damage, for example.

“We have more than 10,000 sites and more than 1,000 kilometres of pipeline. We would benefit greatly from being able to monitor the condition of the network in real time,” says Alatulkkila.

At the beginning of December, the company started a pilot project to try new NB-IoT technology, which makes it easy to measure the temperature and moisture level on selected sites. Up until now, the high prices of sensors have posed challenges. When sensors are needed in large numbers, a single sensor must be sufficiently inexpensive.

The pilot is also serving to ensure that the signal transmitted by a sensor is able to penetrate underground structures. Battery life will be monitored as well, and is expected to be several years.

“Inspecting an underground site involves quite a lot of work, as traffic arrangements need to be made around the manhole and the site needs to be aired. If IoT technology enables us to monitor underground sites to detect any leaks at an early stage, the amount of unnecessary work will decrease, and the risk of damage will be reduced significantly,” says Alatulkkila. The same technology could potentially be used to monitor customer facilities as well.

HEATING FROM THE CLOUD

A broken district heating pipe can cause considerable financial losses. It may interrupt public transport in a city centre. In an apartment building, damaged equipment and pipes can become costly. Such damage can be prevented and minimised by means of new technology and remote monitoring.

Alatulkkila is also very interested in identifying digital services that the energy company could offer to its customers in the future. He would like to be able to sell digital products – such as customer equipment monitoring and personalised conditions – as services.

“Customers expect services to make their lives easier and more comfortable, in addition to bringing savings,” Alatulkkila points out.
The number of services will increase in the future, as it will be possible to connect multiple sites and a significant portion of the network to the cloud.

“NB-IoT and 5G will play a significant role in this. This pilot project is a step in the right direction,” says Alatulkkila.

In December 2017, the company started a pilot project to try new NB-IoT technology, which makes it easy to measure the temperature and moisture level on selected sites. Up until now, the high prices of sensors have posed challenges. When sensors are needed in large numbers, a single sensor must be sufficiently inexpensive.

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