Swedish state-owned power company Vattenfall is intensifying its digitisation activities to cater for the company’s growing district heating base.

The company recently announced initiating the development of a new cogeneration plant with district heating in Berlin and the digital technology accompanying the facility will go a long way towards meeting the city’s climate neutrality objective. It’s an example that would show other cities the way.

Decentralized Energy spoke to Marco Sick, Director of Strategic Planning and Business Intelligence at one of Europe’s largest heat suppliers about the work the company is doing in the digitisation space and how that manifests in the decentralized energy space and generally.
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Across Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands Vattenfall has around 2 million end customers, in terms of heating and they expect a 25 per cent increase in customer base by 2025. Sick is seeing a proliferation of activities in the space, and the area is demanding more and more time and resource.

“Its evident all over the value chain in digital, with maintenance meters, visibility tools to improve optimisation, and all other means of assisting customers to stay on top of consumption. I’d say 40 per cent of my time is spent on digital topics, it has massively grown over the years.”

“We had been putting in digital before in other points of the value chain but in heat it has massively increased over the last couple of years to the extent that all of us are in one way or the other engaged in digital.”

The investment going into the technology is significant for electric utilities like Vattenfall but, according to Sick, the data garnered can be significantly more valuable.

Like other aspects of power generation and transmission, Vattenfall is well versed in using data to help customers reduce consumption and provide advice on how to save energy.

Vattenfall are also keen to green their power services. Having offloaded their coal power plant facilities in recent years, they are now looking at incrementally squeezing fossil fuel out of their decentralized energy resources too.

“We have just kicked off a new CHP plant in Berlin, which is highly-efficient and has not only power to heat but flexibility, which is important in the modern context.”

Cities with similar characteristics to Berlin could benefit from similar facilities, as Sick tells Decentralized Energy, ‘We invite all cities to speak to us.’

Vattenfall already has strong examples of district heating, and other decentralized energy portfolio in not only Berlin, but in Hamburg and Amsterdam.

“It depends on systems -Berlin is a big system. You need bits of peak load, elements of baseload, flexibility.”

“Berlin today is mainly coal and gas powered – we are currently taking lignite completely out, and the plan long term is to go completely CO2 free by 2050. That is a journey and that plant is part of a journey. Today we also have close to 800 MW of waste heat plants in operation, as well as an island off Amsterdam which is powered completely by solar PV.”

“Big cities will always need district heating because it’s so efficient – once you can bury the pipes it makes total sense to use it.”

In recent years, there has been evidence of fear among utilities and grid operators about the entire energy system being turned on its head due to the ubiquity of distributed energy resources and renewables, as conventional power declines. Are utilities ready for the challenges of the new paradigm?

“Do we have a choice not to be ready?” says Sick, speaking at the Euroheat & Power congress in Glasgow. “The customer wants it to be decentralised, green and cheap and they want it to be digital, we have to move in this direction and get out of our comfort zone. The old world is gone.”

“We are happy that we make sense to big district energy systems but we have to fuel them more with renewables and for that we have to educate more on the decentralized side.”


For more information on Vattenfall district heating