Bristol Steps up to District Heating

I wrote in March 2014 that cities were entering a new age of Victoriana, where cities, bereft of Government spending and failed by national energy policy, are returning to their roles of municipal leadership and investing in the infrastructure they need to serve not only voters in homes but those businesses that generate the ever important business rates. It’s great then to read that Bristol has committed £5m of capital expenditure to create a new district heating scheme in the city utilising biomass as the low carbon fuel of choice and, alongside other forward thinking cities such as Nottingham (Robin Hood Energy, etc) are genuinely delivering this vision.

The money is one thing. Well done to Bristol for committing £5m when budgets are tight and austerity means competing for budgets within frontline services is every more ferocious. But the really neat part of this is the way in which the Council’s Planning Authority has used its policies to drive demand for the heat network and de-risk the project.

Under current planning laws, all new building developments in Bristol within a designated “heat priority area” are required to connect to a heat network or be “district heating ready” unless technically unviable. Therefore, the new network scheme is also expected to significantly improve the green credentials of new developments in the city.

Of course, new build projects in 2017 and beyond, even without code for sustainable homes and a more proactive building regulations for commercial build will be low demand in terms of heat so the business case still has to stack up. But achieving the city’s carbon targets is serious for the Mayor and he’ll need a 4th generation heat network to deliver it.

Over two years ago I wrote about 4th Generation Heat Networks – setting out what a 4th Generation, 21st Century, heat network should achieve. It should seek to achieve a number of improvements on existing networks, including:

  1. Greater resilience, through heat storage, back-up and optimisation;
  2. Lower carbon heat, through the adoption of lower carbon fuel sources, such as geothermal heat, biomass, biogas, solar;
  3. Choice and product differentiation, offered through multiple heat providers inputting to a singular (independent possibly) network over which consumers buy their heat. Products could be differentiated by temperature (return temperatures are lower than those temperatures leaving central plant), carbon intensity (fuels of varying intensities of heat can command different prices and values shaped by carbon markets and carbon targets).

The (new) Mayor of Bristol has approved the expenditure on the back of the city’s status of 2015’s Green Capital. He approved the city’s first major step towards becoming carbon neutral by 2050, giving the go-ahead for £5m in capital funding to build a low-carbon district heating network to serve the city.

The first phase of the heat network, which was approved earlier this week, will supply low-carbon heat to buildings throughout Bristol via a network of underground pipes connected to a number of energy centres, including biomass boilers and gas combined heat and power plants. Over time the city plans to phase out the use of natural gas in favour of renewable alternatives.

One of my campaign promises was to put Bristol on course to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050,” Mayor Rees said in a statement. “Without a city-wide heat network this target will not be possible, particularly in a city with a historic centre, where solar and wind technologies are not always an option for technical or financial reasons.

This is a major infrastructure project that will connect parts of the city over a number of years and which will deliver substantial benefits to the environment, residents and businesses in Bristol,” Mayor Rees added. “In the meantime, we are already delivering low carbon, stable and fairly priced heat to council tenants, many of whom are currently living in fuel poverty, which is a cause that’s very close to my heart.”

 

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