The UK has had great success in reducing emissions: down 43% overall since 1990. But, like most places, Heating and Cooling is struggling. Mark Woodward, of The Smart City Alliance and Nordic Heat, sets out a plan for progress, and includes lessons from Europe. The focus is on four core energy efficiency activities: reduce, recover, store and distribute. He explains how this also opens up new business models: in one town in Sweden chemicals firm Kemira provides close to 25% of the heat demand in the city by selling its excess heat back to the grid, so a cost becomes a revenue. And blue-sky thinking could turn old coal mines into below-ground storage facilities.
There is not a single silver bullet solution to decarbonising heating and cooling in the UK, however it is logical for the most resource efficient solutions to be prioritised provided they can be delivered within defined cost windows.
The Smart City Alliance/Nordic Heat vision of a transformational model for Heating and Cooling is;
· Reduce – reduce heating and cooling demand, improve industrial efficiency
· Recover – surplus heating and cooling – solar, industrial, data centres
· Store – above and below ground storage for load balancing and assuring reliable supply
· Distribute – via heat networks
Case Study – Helsingborg, Sweden
In Helsingborg, 96% of the heat for the city-wide heat network is provided by renewable sources. The largest of these (providing approx. 25%) is produced by Kemira which manufactures Sulphuric Acid. Recovered heat from sewage provides 8%.
Instead of ejecting its ‘waste’ heat into the sea, Kemira now sells it to Oresundskraft, the publicly owned entity that manages energy for the Helsingborg region. This earns Kemira a significant revenue , turning a cost into an income and thereby assisting the economic sustainability of the business and preserving jobs.
Through energy efficiency and renewable energy heating and cooling programmes, Helsingborg has reduced emissions by 90% since 1990. In the UK we have reduced emissions by 43% during the same period.
Energy efficiency technologies are well established and effective. Some buildings energy efficiency systems can virtually eliminate the need for heating and cooling. These are particularly effective for new build housing when the additional construction costs are lower than for retrofit situations and therefore more speedily recouped in carbon and energy savings over the lifespan of the building. In Heerlen, The Netherlands, the low temperature heating and cooling network, using the 5GDHC model, supports energy efficiency measures that have the greatest impact for the least expenditure and disruption to the householder.
Improving energy efficiency in housing creates healthier environments and reduces costs, and is particularly beneficial for some of the most vulnerable in society.
By reducing heating and cooling demand, energy supply needs are, in turn, reduced. Policy will be key to this, for example, progressively increasing building regulation requirements for energy efficiency and creating incentives for effective energy reduction in all sectors, particularly housing and industry.
Reducing energy also means reducing losses through distribution. Creating too much high temperature heat creates inefficient heat loss.
By using smart and innovative manufacturing technologies, industry can significantly reduce its demand for energy. The UK government’s £35m SUSTAIN project for the steel industry is a welcome investment, as is the commitment of private sector companies like Liberty Steel to develop industrial efficiency programmes such as ‘Green Steel’.
We need to make the most of the heating and cooling that we have already produced, natural and man-made, before we manufacture more.
Heat pumps capture stored solar energy but most solar energy is not captured or stored. The potential of inter-seasonal energy is considerable; “the total annual solar radiation falling on the earth is more than 7,500 times the world’s total annual primary energy consumption,” according to the World Energy Council.
Industrial heat recovery, as in the Helsingborg example, offers a great opportunity to improve business profitability and de-carbonise energy infrastructure. The government might consider investing in more pilot heat recovery projects in Enterprise Zones to incentivise adoption.
One problem with waste heat recovery projects is the risk of the heat provider going out of business. The government might consider supporting waste heat recovery schemes in imaginative ways such as using the Infrastructure Guarantee scheme to underwrite the costs for assuring the heat supply from such projects.
Another related issue is that business uncertainty results in short investment payback periods, typically less than 2 years. This is an almost impossible hurdle to overcome without public sector support.
To take advantage of heating and cooling recovery technology, storage is needed. In the UK we have a substantial infrastructure of former mine workings (170,000 workings and 140,000 shafts – Coal Authority) that are close to population centres. In conjunction with above-ground storage, former mine workings could provide vast heating and cooling buffers. These would reduce heating and cooling demand and enable the levelling of peaks and troughs.
Heat networks are an established technology with proven performance in many countries. Heat networks reduce carbon emissions because they are compatible with renewable energy generation and heat recovery technologies. They are also technologically neutral and therefore future-proof, enabling decarbonisation to occur progressively as innovative renewable heating and cooling solutions become available.
Latest generation low temperature heat networks, 5GDHC, are very efficient. Heat losses of low temperature networks are 80% lower than losses from high temperature networks. This is because they deliver heat in the volume and at the temperature that it is needed. These heat networks also incorporate cooling and enable the exchange of heating and cooling between end-users and storage systems. This also substantially reduces heat losses and preserves energy.
Heat networks are compatible with industrial heat recovery technologies, enabling ‘waste’ heat to be re-used. Heat networks can also balance energy grids by storing both heating and cooling in buffer tanks and large scale below-ground storage infrastructure.
The capex of heat networks is currently high and solutions are needed to solve the high cost of connecting individual homes to heat networks.
The UK’s HNIP programme is a welcome source of gap funding.
Smart technology is crucial to the efficient implementation of the Reduce, Recover, Store, Distribute approach to de-carbonising heating and cooling.
Rebalancing the UK Economy
Industrial and post-industrial regions of the UK, such as former mining towns, have seen their relative prosperity fall. If these regions were to harvest the heating and cooling, renewable energy asset values from current and former industry, significant long-term economic, environmental and social benefits would flow to those communities.
Fifty per cent of all primary energy in the UK is used for heating buildings. The bulk of this heat is produced by gas, which to a large extent is imported from other countries. Any reduction in the need for gas will therefore have a direct impact on improving the UK’s balance of trade, releasing money to be re-invested in the local economy rather than leaving the country.
Maximising economic and social value
Every infrastructure project creates business and employment opportunities. Typically, these are very difficult to access for SMEs and workers in the locality of the project and often the skills profile of the workforce does not meet project needs.
For all strategic infrastructure investments, we propose that government supports the creation of parallel business support and training programmes.
We have seen the benefits of this approach for ourselves. In Stoke-on-Trent, in the UK, we are assisting the council with peer-to-peer advisory services to the construction management of a major heat network. Once the installation work started it soon became clear that there was a significant capacity gap to be filled in the supply chain, in particular for critical services such as laying the pipes.
In co-operation with the city we have been able to turn this short term challenge into a long term opportunity, which over time will attract investments and create new jobs in the region. In close partnership with Stoke-on-Trent College we have established a Heat Academy focusing on vocational training in professions required for installing smart energy solutions.
We are now in the process of setting up a Hotspot Business Centre, offering services to assist suppliers of energy related systems and services in investing in the region, e.g. by organising events highlighting concrete commercial opportunities and setting up match making workshops with local SMEs.
The Smart City Alliance and related activities are all focusing on achieving tangible results on the ground – e.g. getting pipe networks installed and buildings connected. In the process we aim to maximise not only the direct benefits of the users of the new smart energy systems in terms of convenience and affordability. Our ambition is also to assist cities in maximising the wider economic and social opportunities created in the process. Our motto is that visions are good, but execution is everything. It is very encouraging to see the rapidly growing number of people sharing this motto.
By using these methods to maximise efficiency, and create skills and jobs where they are needed, we can make the transition succeed for everyone.