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Part Two - Energy and Sustainability Forum

The Jubilee Lido at Penzance - heated by geo-thermal energy, with the project partly funded by a public share offer of £540,000 and a mix of loans and grants from Power to Change, Architectural Heritage Fund, and the Co-operative Communities Investment Fund. The geo-well was constructed by Geo-Thermal Energy, funded by the ERDF (Image courtesy Country Life))

Part Two of our Energy and Sustainability forum asked questions about the importance of scale in heat and energy networks, the influence of other European companies on the heat network landscape, the question over the retrofitting of homes to appropriate heat saving standards, the opportunity that water creates to provide a source of energy and the continued support of supply chains once government funding runs out.

The Leader for Local Energy at the BEIS, Patrick Allcorn, wanted to stress that 'clearly heat networks are not the solution everywhere'. While the consideration of saving energy through retrofit is important, he admitted, he also explained that some older buildings cannot be retrofitted to the standard of new ones. There are a lot of innovative projects being carried out apart from in the area of district heat networks he pointed out:

'In the North East for example, water stored in a mine is being cleaned and extracted as heat for a network in a garden village. Looking at local opportunities is important. In some tower blocks at Enfield, there has been a project to provide electrified heating with ground source heat pumps, where you get a much more efficient use of electricity, but this is still classified as a heat network,' he observed.

'Additionally, it doesn't have to be on a massive scale. Six houses in a social housing block or 30 apartments in a block - it doesn't matter - the smaller the scale can potentially make de-carbonising electricity easier. In the general picture of energy generation, we need a lot more off-shore and on-shore wind which takes huge costs. There is no one silver bullet. We need a mixture, finding the lowest cost needed for an area is essential.'

Grimshaw's Annabel Koeck mentioned the Swedish company Vattenfall which has entered the UK in the heat network arena and wondered whether Patrick welcomed 'outsiders'. Patrick answered by saying that the BEIS tends to be provider agnostic and the important consideration is whether funding can be available to schemes to meet deliverability thresh-holds and that is for local authorities to take decisions on this. There is huge experience (around green energy) in Scandinavia. We need their advice and knowledge.

Rob Delius, Head of Sustainable Design at Stride Treglown mentioned the project in Bristol around waste to heat. He cited the big grant to use the floating harbour in the city as a water source for a heat pump and questioned whether there were other opportunities in this area?

In March 2020 Bristol received £10 million in government funding to aid the City authorities in expanding the district heat networks to more communities, as well as using heat from the old shafts of redundant coal mines and a large water-source heat pump linked to the floating harbour.

Patrick commented:

'People talk about it at Shoreham Harbour in Sussex and also in the Mersey. It is a good use of technology but you need to understand marine conditions. There is a difference in 'marine' versus 'fresh water' and there are issues with salt, longevity and corrosive properties, but technologies will move forward. Back in 2014, on the back of a successful social housing project in Kingston, Mitsubishi put heat pumps in the Thames. It is helpful to have mapped water sources in UK which is possible in rivers, flood risk not withstanding'.'

Ian Edwards, Director of Place at Gloucester City Council, commented how difficult it was in a historic city to dig up streets for heating networks:

'We are looking at options across the county. Gloucester is a historic city and you can't dig a hole without finding a Roman! So we have trouble with digging up streets. We are looking at alternative models beyond heat networks, where sites outside the city can make it work, the question remains on how we lower carbon within the city.

'From a flood point of view in Gloucester, the news has reported our problems well. We have a double whammy. We have both tidal and fluvial influence and any development in the city reinforces our flooding problems. We have looked at opening culverts and allowing grass to grow a bit longer to stop flooding as well as allowing the upper reaches of River Severn to be dammed. But you have to take the public with you and we have had some difficulty selling the whole idea of naturalising water courses. In the long run, I think we will take public opinion with us.'

Ian asked Patrick where there had been development in the UK around geo-thermal?

Patrick commented that there are clear clusters that work best, particularly in Cheshire and Durham, the latter where there is good geology for it. There have been studies based out of Glasgow while Stoke and Manchester are exploiting water for geo-thermal only. In Cornwall geo-thermal is being used for the Jubilee Lido (at Penzance), but there are works taking place to look at geo thermal for heat too.

Stride Treglown's Rob Delius commented that the residential side of the practice's business is still very strong because people have been asked to work from home rather than travel to the office. He commented that all the points being made about existing homes rang true and that the observation on the amount of heating coming out of buildings is of paramount importance but heat networks are suited to new build - so what we do with existing homes? Rob said:

'The green homes grant has been given a rough ride because it is on short term basis and it hasn't had the interest from installers. The UK hitting CO2 targets is a concern. As a practice, we always advocate using existing buildings because they retain so much charm and interest but trying to create CO2 savings that go with retrofitting is not always the best solution. We have explored hard improving some areas of existing buildings and turning some offices into residential, but in the end we felt in those places that the quality of accommodation would have been feasible but poor. The long term operational costs and lost opportunities in place making were outweighed in contrast to taking down buildings in the city centre with the dual aspect outlook and amenity we could provide.

Chapman Taylor's Head of Sustainability, Ben Aston, suggested that the ' building beautiful' movement had widened the definition of what a sustainable place is and we are now considering it from a design and well-being point of view with healthy streets. So the 'economic, ethical and social' along with better community involvement and stewardship, is helping with sustainability:

'I worry that we are dealing with symptoms not causes. The main objective is to produce energy and reduce CO2 and there has been a shift in trying to join up the economy, both green and retrofit, but if the energy source is decarbonised - does it really matter? Perhaps there is a benefit over the grid with heat networks, rather than digging up roads.'

Sheffield City Council's Director of Inner City Development, Nalin Seneviratne spoke about the importance of promoting the 'green' in our cities as part of sustainability:

'A third of our city area is Peak District national park, and in fact we are the only UK city situated partly within a national park. We are aiming to attract the move of both residential and business, perhaps from an overheated London. You can walk through a complete green corridor to the national park and we are one of only a few cities to have a forestry department - these are things that people don't understand yet and we have a lot to offer in terms of living and well-being in the city.

To close the discussion, Amber Infrastructure's Peter Radford concluded that heat networks may not be the right solution for every place, but where they do add value is in dense city areas. He commented:

'A new topic that we are looking at is around the electrification of heat pumps and water and this is a growing area. It is great to see the government cash coming into the sector, but my only slight concern is making sure the supply chain remains when government funding disappears.'

Future Cities Forum will be returning to the debate around green energy and sustainability in 2021.


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