Preventative maintenance may hold the key to avoiding downtime of plant equipment. With Combined Heat & Power (CHP) modules becoming ever popular, how can these appliances be kept running for as long as possible and the payback periods shortened? Richard Keen, commercial service manager at Bosch Commercial and Industrial, explains the important role remote monitoring is expected to play in the service concepts of the future.

Remote monitoring of heating and hot water systems may not be a new concept – after all, we’ve seen previous systems use analogue phone lines to report a fault into a central system. Today however, we are seeing more intuitive web-based systems being developed, which allows the customer on site, be it the facilities manager, engineer, or energy manager – as well as the manufacturer of the technology itself – to access their own platform and monitor their system’s performance data via their web browser. Naturally, this brings with it a number of advantages.

Performance analysis

CHP modules are usually sized in relation to their thermal output and in particular should reference the base load of a building. CHP as a technology lends itself to buildings where there is a constant demand for heating and hot water, day and night, which makes care homes, hospitals, and swimming pools in particular all very well suited to having CHP installed. Defining the correct control strategy for such buildings can often be one of the biggest challenges associated with a CHP project. Yes, you always want the CHP module to be the lead source of heating, but working out when secondary heat source should kick in provides food for thought. For example, boilers kicking into action too soon can create a level of thermal energy which is likely to prompt the CHP to back off, so close monitoring and fine tuning plays an important part in maximising the overall performance of the system – and the associated payback period.
One of the associated challenges we’ve come across is that when a CHP module switches off and the heating system’s back-up boilers kick in automatically, staff on site often remain unaware that the module is no longer in operation. Taking a care home as an example, it might not be immediately visible that the CHP module has gone down. In a case like this, the secondary heat source springing into action might mean there is no loss of heat for residents, but the consequence is that no electricity is being generated on site during that period. This will have a significant impact on the payback period of the module in question. One of the main benefits of monitoring a system remotely is that all concerned parties can be notified via text message or email immediately if a CHP module stops working for any reason; enabling them to resolve the issue as promptly as possible.
Remote monitoring has even wider benefits to the supplier or manufacturer of the equipment as the analysis of historical trends can prove to be an extremely effective way to resolve a particular issue. Most importantly however, the monitoring system places the onus back on the manufacturer to manage and react to individual requirements as and when they occur, which can often be before staff on site are even aware.
Within a BMS system, fault warnings will often trigger an alert to the necessary people on site, but rarely do these warnings provide a specific prognosis. In these cases, the facilities manager has the option of delving into the CHP monitoring platform to see whether the alert has been actioned due to a fault with the module, or for another separate reason. When time is of the essence and downtime needs to be avoided, the speed at which this diagnosis can be made is hugely beneficial.

Maximising service levels

As CHP becomes a more familiar technology in the UK and its benefits of large systems in particular are realised, guaranteed availability contracts are set to become more common. This means that many service level agreements are stipulating that a given site’s CHP module must run for a guaranteed period per year – often given as a percentage of their desired number of running hours.
With this growing pressure on manufacturers to ensure their CHP module runs seamlessly day in, day out, the ability to monitor its performance remotely can strengthen the ability to proactively maintain of the appliance. Thanks to a system like this, not only can the manufacturer view how many hours the appliance has run for and when the next service is due, but it can also keep an eye on any performance shortfalls – all of which ultimately create opportunities for the CHP module to be repaired proactively rather than in response to a breakdown.
It is also possible for automatic restarts to be actioned remotely, which allows the appliance to be restarted under certain fault conditions without the need to send an engineer to site. Taking the example of a site where a fire alarm automatically triggers a temporary ceasing of the gas supply to the CHP module, the ability to reset the module can be a real plus point. It could be the case that one of the maintenance staff on site is responsible for a daily check of the CHP system; a duty which can be made a lot easier when they have the option of performing this check from their own desk.
“It is exciting to see just how intuitive the monitoring systems of the future will become, but one thing which is already coming to the fore is the inclusion of remote monitoring within the service concepts of the future. Once on-site operatives have been educated on the benefits of working with a manufacturer able to offer remote monitoring and the transparency that comes with it, the concept will soon become a must-have addition to the modern plant room.