“Fundamentally, I want energy policy to be boring”. Oh.

I’ve just read Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy (Source: Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy – Speeches – GOV.UK). I have to say, nothing in it surprised me. She wants it to be boring. I’d like it to be a little more enthusiastic, exciting and innovative. It chimes with the Conservative approach to energy policy we’ve seen before. It even celebrates the sell-off of the UK’s energy assets.

So, read the speech and make up your own mind, but there were some [amusingly?] redacted ‘political content’ that didn’t make it and then it was a case of ‘Tory Bingo’ with some common phrases – these all made it in:

  1. This Government is focused on securing a better future for Britain.
  2. We’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.
  3. We know competition works. It keeps costs low and can deliver a clean and reliable energy system.
  4. It’s about the long term security of our energy supply. And my view is that is best served through open, competitive markets.
  5. And I can say to Europe that Britain stands ready to help make this vision a reality.
  6. Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable.
  7. So our approach will be different – we will not support offshore wind at any cost.

The bits I expected to see were all there:

It’s pro-nuclear, pro-fracking. With regard to heat: “We will set out our approach next year, as part of our strategy to meet our carbon budgets.” Disappointing given the good work done by DECC on its Heat Strategy not so long ago – and still a long way down the contents of her speech unfortunately. Pleasingly: To set an example to the rest of the world, the UK also has to focus on where we can get the biggest carbon cuts, swiftly and cheaply … and Innovative, new suppliers, which range from start-ups to local authorities, are demonstrating how competition is working for people.

Deep, deep in the statement a final mention for energy efficiency: More than 1.2 million households are seeing lower bills due to energy efficiency improvements over the last 5 years. We are committed to ensuring a million more get the same benefits by the end of this Parliament. But no mention of the Green Deal, the commercial opportunities in energy efficiency nor the links with housing policy.

Boring? Is that the same as ‘unsurprising’?

 

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Waste, steam, district heating, and Nottingham

There are many towns and cities around the world that use district heating, and many of these district heating systems also use steam.

For an example of this in the UK we chose Nottingham, where domestic and commercial waste is used for both electricity and heat. Nottingham is a city in the county of Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands of England. The district heating network in Nottingham is the largest in the UK and has been providing heat and hot water for three decades.

The incinerator lines can generate to 52 tonnes per hour of steam at 23.5barg 371°C. The steam produced is piped 1.5kM from the facility to an energy generation and distribution facility on London Road in Nottingham which is operated by EnviroEnergy Ltd. It is then passed through a condensing extraction steam turbine to generate electricity and provide heat to the district heating network. The district heating distribution network comprises of 85km of insulated pipework carrying pressurised hot water around Nottingham City Centre.

The blog is available at Waste, steam, district heating, and Nottingham.

Realtime, High Res, Open Data of a Changing Planet

This was another of those truly inspirational Ted talks that makes you realise that not everyone is out there to screw the world over. Fantastic stuff from Will Marshall and his colleagues to develop a floatilla of satellites to enable high-res digital photography of the earth in, virtually, real-time. Then to open that up to citizens of the world for their own exploitation and exploration. Watch the 8 min talk here:

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites show us the Earth as it changes in near-real-time | Talk Video | TED.com.

Consumer Protection Needed for Heat Networks – Which?

In the wake of the UK Government’s Heat Strategy and subsequent investment in heat mapping, feasibility studies and heat networks “the need for the UK’s district heating industry to be properly regulated has been emphasised by a survey from leading consumer watchdog, Which?

“The watchdog has called on the British government to reconsider allowing the UK’s emerging district heat market to operate without regulation, after research revealed that many customers feel ripped off and confused by contracts they cannot escape from.”

In the UK, regulation has hardly kept energy companies on track but consumers are likely to seek some protection when committing to long term connections with sole suppliers of heat. My experience of networks in Sheffield suggests this to be the case. Even if the product is good, the price stable and the infrastructure sound, consumers (led, often, by their insurers interest in liabilities) will seek protection. The cost of this will be borne by the end-user without doubt and this might mean some marginally economic schemes will fall by the wayside.

The report, unveiled yesterday, said some district heat providers effectively create monopolies because properties linked into the networks cannot switch suppliers if they are unhappy with the service. This is, in most cases, fact. Many UK heat networks have heat supplied from one source, or one supplier. Only when you start to see integrated heat networks with multiple technologies and suppliers will you see genuine competition that will self-regulate. Heat networks are a long way from that position.

The news, which comes just at a time when the Association for Decentralised Energy is pushing its new code of practice, called Heat Trust. Around 210,000 homes in the UK are currently connected to the networks and this is expected to rise to eight million by 2030 as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the heat sector.

Can we be Transparent on District and Communal Heat Network Data?

In a recent blog (Can we be Transparent on District and Communal Heat Network Data?) there is a call to ensure data is in high definition. To make”innovative projects truly successful there is a requirement for as much data, information and experiences as possible. The data provided to academics, policy planners, system designers, manufacturers and operators allows for solutions to meet the needs of all stakeholders, offering the best in environmental and cost benefits.

This is hard to argue with – lots of stakeholders might want to see this data (such as academics, policy planners, system designers, manufacturers and operators) but if you really want to extract and harvest data about the system, user behaviour and the interaction between the two you really need to give the end user some benefit. My view is that heat networks have the potential to be much more flexible in their offer to customers. In a previous blog I wrote that modern networks should offer 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).

With real time monitoring and offers you can, potentially, encourage customers to turn down their heating, or indeed encourage them to take more as a mechanism to balance heat loads. You could share local performance at the home level or at the network level to achieve this.

To conclude this short blog, it’s hard to disagree with Sycous Limited in their call for better data, but it has to reap reward for the end user as much as any operator, academic or planner.

£3 million funding to boost low carbon heating

The cynic in me isn’t surprised that this announcement comes less than 60 days before the General Election, but I am not a cynic really. It’s good to see DECC’s continued support for district heating. If there is one thing this Government can be applauded for its understanding of the importance of ‘heat’ and the opportunity for heat networks to reduce carbon emissions and provide cost-effective heat. Well done to Davey and his team in carving out £3 million of funding to boost low carbon heating.

DECC has done some useful enabling work to support the uptake of heat networks. It has established the Heat Network Development Unit (HNDU) to lead this and has produced some useful studies to demonstrate the untapped potential out there – such as the report produced in 2014 on heat opportunities from rivers.

The Government’s own Heat Strategy states that producing heat is the biggest user of energy in the UK and in most cases we burn gas in individual boilers to produce this heat. This is a wasteful method of producing heat and a large emitter of CO2, with heat being responsible for 1/3 of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Household heat demand has risen somewhat over the past 40 years from 400 TWh/y to 450 TWh/y, despite a marked improvement in the energy efficiency of homes and a slight reduction in the severity of winters. The average internal temperature of homes has risen by 6°C since the 1970s, and this combined with growth in housing – the number of households has risen by around 40% since the 1970s – has offset energy efficiency gains in terms of total energy used to heat homes Some studies suggest these temperature increases are due to factors including the move to central heating, rather than householders actively turning up their thermostats.

Heat networks in the UK use a range of heat sources including biomass and gas boilers, combined heat and power (CHP) plants and heat from energy-from-waste plants and, where conditions suit, such as is the case of Southampton, a small amount of geothermal heat. Networks are currently estimated to provide less than 2% of the UK’s heat demand supplying 172,000 domestic buildings (predominantly social housing, tower blocks and public buildings) and a range of commercial and industrial applications (particularly where high temperature heat in the form of steam is required). Despite being of a significant size, Sheffield’s city centre district energy network is estimated to provide 3% of the entire City’s total heat needs.

By comparison, district heating is widespread in many other parts of Europe, in China, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the USA, although the level of sophistication and reliability is very diverse. While having an average market share of 10% in Europe, district heat is particularly widespread in Scandinavia (Denmark nearly 70%, Finland 49%, and Sweden around 50%). It also has a substantial share elsewhere in Europe. For instance, district heat provides around 18% of heat in Austria (and 40% of heat in Vienna). European networks are currently growing at around 2,800 km per year, about 3% of current installed length. With the right planning, economic and market conditions it is clear district energy can play a more prominent role.

Whilst this funding announcement is showing funding going to new players in the district heating community as well as some established ones (Coventry, Leicester, Manchester, for example) there is a need to put money in to those long-established networks in cities that were at the forefront in decades past (Sheffield, Nottingham, Southampton). These ‘4th generation networks’ need to be reviewed, refreshed and developed as much as those ‘greenfield’ sites where district heating is all too new.

All the schemes developed to date have been local authority led. This round of funding allocates £3m across 55 local authorities in England and Wales. I would urge DECC to look at other types of organisation who might exploit heat networks at a medium scale where the conditions are right to do so. Those organisations with a long term stake in the city or town in which they are based are well placed. For example, NHS Trusts, universities and colleges, whilst not as big as an entire city or town often have enough scale in them to warrant district heating networks. Indeed, some of them already do. My own organisation, The University of Nottingham, has two of significance as well as several smaller, interconnected systems on its campuses. Most of them follow the model of high temperature, high pressure systems and don’t allow for storage, cooling or consider CHP. 

In the recent round of HEFCE/Salix Revolving Green Fund projects awarded interest free loans there were a good number of CHP schemes and a smaller number of district heating schemes put forward. I believe there would have been more had these organisations had sufficient revenue to develop shovel-ready projects for capital investment. Like the public sector, universities are often capital rich and revenue poor. That means that complex, integrated and multi-faceted feasibility studies can often become un-affordable – even if the capital is available for it to be delivered in time. I would like to see HNDU looking to other large organisations and helping them in the way that they have helped local authorities. If they could do it in partnership with the funding council and with their established partners, Salix Finance, even better. 

 

 

Develop locally sourced heat from Rivers

Regions given helping hand to develop locally sourced heat 
Earlier posts on this blog advocate the development of heat networks, so it is encouraging to see the UK Government’s support in developing a better understanding of the potential to capture heat from major rivers across England.