The EUREKA E! 3868 INTELLGAS project has developed a cost-effective and easy-to-use approach to forecasting gas consumption up to 48 hours ahead to keep the wholesale price of gas purchases under control. The project involved partners from Germany, Slovenia and South Korea in developing a hardware and software system that measures and corrects gas consumption figures at user premises, transmits the data to the distribution centre and then uses it to predict consumption based on historic use data and temperature forecasts. The objective of this project was to enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be competitive with larger companies in the deregulated gas distribution market.

Deregulation of the energy market in Europe has led to much increased pressure on distribution companies to keep their costs under control. While existing and upgraded supervisory control and data-acquisition (SCADA) systems enable gas suppliers to ensure proper operation of their networks overall, reliable and correct data about when and how much gas is used is crucial to enable further analyses and accurate forecasting.

The EUREKA approach was much appreciated as the minimal bureaucracy involved allowed the partners to focus on communications between themselves and development of the new products.

Tomaz Ostir
Solvera Lynx, Slovenia

In particular, gas distributors need to be able to forecast gas consumption up to 48 hours ahead and negotiate wholesale gas purchases accordingly - large penalties are applied if forecasts are more than 8% out. However, while forecasting programs and systems have already been available, their cost and complexity have limited their use to large organisations.

The consortium behind the EUREKA project therefore set out to develop a new generation of low-cost yet easy-to-use systems based on state-of-the-art technology that could be used by smaller distributors.

Slovenian project leader Solvera Lynx supplies energy data management software to gas distributors, industrial users and gas network operators. German partner Feingeraetebau Tritschler specialises in explosion-proof electrical measuring equipment for energy networks, particularly natural gas. Gas-demand forecasting software came from South Korean software partner Wooam.Com.

"All three companies involved are SMEs and not able to fund the work required themselves," explains Tomaz Ostir of Solvera Lynx. "EUREKA enabled us to access public funding. We have participated in EU Framework Projects but EUREKA offers the best programme for small companies that do not have enough employees to deal with all the paperwork required by the Commission. It is a really good way to help small companies to develop competitive new products. The EUREKA approach was also much appreciated as the minimal bureaucracy involved allowed the partners to focus on communications between themselves and development of the new products."

Specific advances in the EUREKA project include development of an automatic combined data-logging and volume-correction system able to function in a potentially explosive atmosphere at the consumer premises, use of the public GPRS mobile phone network for particularly inexpensive transmission of data from often very remote sites, and advanced algorithms for the business processes required.

Measuring gas consumption directly is complicated because volume depends on temperature and pressure, requiring correction at the user premises to ensure the consumers pays the correct amount. The new meter combines both volume correction and data logging in a single explosion-proof unit that provides its output directly to the distribution centre over the general packet radio service (GPRS) mobile phone network. This is the first time all these functions have been combined in a single unit.

"We used GPRS because it is now a widespread technology with a very low cost of data transfer," says Oštir. "It enables us to send meter readings of only a few bytes at a much lower cost than even an SMS text message." Moreover, the automatic system enables regular data transmission - once a day or even once an hour - over the existing public GPRS network far away from city centres without having to install additional communications lines.

The resulting data is then interpreted in the distribution centre using advanced algorithms developed in the EUREKA project to provide users with daily, weekly and annual consumption with graphic representation if required. Distributors can use the data on individual consumption not only for billing purposes but also to help inform and educate consumers about reducing energy needs - an obligation the EU has now put on energy suppliers.

GPRS enables us to send meter readings of only a few bytes at a much lower cost than even an SMS text message.

More importantly, it allows optimisation for load planning and enables accurate estimation of overall gas consumption up to 48 hours ahead based on current and historical user data and weather forecasts. Before such estimates where often only rule of thumb. The system can be fully customised to different conditions - tariff systems, business information systems, languages - in European and non-European energy markets.

The resulting total solution offers many benefits for smaller gas-distribution companies and enables them to offer better service to their customers. At the same time, it allows SMEs to compete with the large energy distributors, providing an overall competitive advantage in Europe and so reducing prices.

The hardware developed in INTELLGAS is now being commercialised in Germany, Austria and Slovenia. The software is available in Croatia and Slovenia and will soon be delivered in Austria. "The software is finalised but we are continuously developing new features as regulations differ by geographical area and we customise solutions," says Oštir.

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