Green energy report: BEIS and city councils at Future Cities Forum


Green roof at the North London Heat and Power Project (Grimshaw)



The Department for Business, Energy & industrial Strategy's (BEIS) Leader in Local Energy, Patrick Allcorn, spoke at our Future Cities Forum this week to local authorities, investors and architects on the future of green energy and sustainability in towns and cities.


There were questions to be answered on whether district heat networks are the solution for reducing carbon emissions in cities, how new power projects can be designed to fit sensitively into urban environments and whether green technologies will provide new and much needed jobs to support local economies.


Patrick said: '


'District heat networks are part of the solution for big urban centres where there is high heat use. Heat is the biggest use of energy in the UK, bigger than transport use. The heat challenge is the biggest challenge we have. Nottingham has had a district heat network for 40 years - it is not new technology but it matters where the source of heat comes from, for example, taking people off oil and replacing it with something else to provide a significant carbon saving. A gas unit is not necessarily producing high carbon savings, so you have to think about the transition to hydrogen in the future for this. The big win is in low emission fuels.


'There is also a big win around mass take up, not so much around individual choices. So public sector swimming pools and hospitals can drive the economies of those heat networks. It is much harder to reach lower demand heat communities, so it has been necessary for the public sector to lead that debate.


There is an interesting opportunity for local authorities around commercial models - on investment and returns - and what they can achieve with that. Can they de-carbonise other buildings? We are supporting 180 local authorities to explore the development of this. They should look at their building stock on an area wide basis.


Architect at Grimshaw, Annabel Koeck joined the discussion to talk about the practice's North London Heat and Power Project with the North London Waste Authority, the second largest waste disposal authority in the UK and a statutory authority established in 1986 and whose principal responsibility is the disposal of waste. Annabel described how the project at Edmonton is being built on an existing energy site next to the new Meridian Water Master plan. The project which is a brand new facility will create low-carbon energy from non-recycle-able household waste for seven north London boroughs.


The North London Heat and Power Project will be made up of three main elements as part of a new EcoPark development - an energy recovery facility, a resource recovery facility including a recycling centre, and an education and visitor centre. Annabel told the forum:


'Installing a visitor centre on site is so important as the technology is changing so quickly and it is essential to be open and transparent with the public where you can on the whole process of recycling. Cities are densifying producing growing waste, there is a breadth of technologies and it is vital to start to engaging with the public, making these sites publicly accessible. People can take their waste to the site so these projects are becoming a physical point of contact for waste. It is so important as there is such a lot of misinformation around these heat and waste projects.'


The energy recovery facility is the major component and has a shrink wrap design and steps down towards the adjacent Lee Valley Regional Park to minimise the impact of the building on its surroundings. The education and visitor centre will be a two-storey building which will face onto the River Lee Navigation.


Peter Radford, Principal, Amber Infrastructure, was asked about the education programme that might still be required to convince local authorities to take up funding for district heat projects. Amber Infrastructure has been running MEEF - the GLA's Mayor of London's Energy efficient fund, which Peter says provides soft funding for the public sector and has been involved in the heat network at Enfield.


MEEF invests in a wide range of technologies and projects which will deliver carbon and energy savings to the public and private sectors. A minimum of 70% of MEEF investments must be to the public sector involving local authorities, education, registered providers, health and not for profits. Up to 30% of MEEF investments can be in the private sector.


MEEF can fund up to 100% of the capital cost of a £1m+ project but could also part fund large scale regeneration projects which will have low carbon credentials: energy efficiency, decentralised energy, small scale renewables, energy storage, regeneration projects, electric vehicle charging and infrastructure. Peter said:


'I bring together satellite sites. When we first started investing, the investments were in gas, but we are now moving to new technologies. It is an exciting time. As far as education goes, It is important that local authorities think of bringing all projects into one, as Patrick said so that you can get the scale. There is a range of funding available. Some larger heat networks are £20 million for example.'


There is also the hope that green technologies will help the local economy because of the new jobs that will be created. Tom Knowland, Head of Sustainable Energy and Climate Change, at Leeds City Council, who joined our debate, confirmed that there is a real need to transition to those jobs and avoid the previous situations where when coal mines shut, people were left behind:


'Green technologies will create new opportunities - we don't even know yet how many - but they will certainly offer small builders work in the retrofit area and also maintenance jobs, but it must be a just transition where we don't leave people behind. With the government's 10 point Climate Change plan announced today, we have a much clearer direction for colleges - they can be much more certain about where to invest in training. Take electric vehicles, Leeds City Council runs the largest fleet of taxis in the country and there is a need now for training in maintaining these to match the new EV regulations. There's definitely a market there for training providers.


'On the question of the six new district heat networks we are investing in - the main one has been accelerated - and our long term relationship with BEIS has really helped in this. We have been able to send heat three kilometres to council flats near hospitals - about 2,000 flats. The tenants have switched to the new heat network, it works and they are happy. We have also been able to address fuel poverty through this. Phase Two includes energy provision for our museums and libraries and Leeds Playhouse after a major refurbishment. These new heat networks work best when there is real demand. Our Phase Three will go down to a large regeneration area in Leeds and connect to new buildings. Planning policies now require developers to show why they can't connect - so the expectation is that they will. Hopefully we will expand further over the years and industrial and low carbon heat could feed into it.'


Part two of our debate with more comment from the BEIS, Sheffield and Gloucester City Councils, architects Chapman Taylor and Stride Treglown will be published next week.

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