Smart City Collaboration [Cities and their Universities]

In previous blogs I have suggested the role that universities might play within their cities to forward the ‘smart’ agenda. Indeed, it was a feature of both the recent conferences organised by The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges and the International Sustainable Campus Network.

Without doubt urbanisation is the perfect platform to encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration within universities. Those UK universities who have identified this as an opportunity to promote this through an emphasis on urbanisation are creating think tanks, centres of excellence and institutes to address them.

Now overlay that with ‘smart’ urbanisation and recognise the inherent willingness to experiment, to try out new ideas, that are encouraged in universities but frowned upon in risk-averse (and resource depleted) local authorities who act as proxy for ‘the city’.

Cities are recognising the need to engage with their universities to forward the smart city agenda. In essence, to help make their cities work better through a greater understanding of human behaviour, infrastructure capability and capacity, societal norms and observation. If you’re going to make informed decisions and change things you might want to consider how data can underpin that process.

This week President Obama launched a $160m initiative for smart cities in the USA. One of the initiative’s programs is the MetroLab Network, aimed at improving American cities through university-city partnerships. More than 20 cities participating in major new multi-city collaborations that will help city leaders effectively collaborate with universities and industry. The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, in Atlanta, are four of the universities on board. The whole programme will provide a platform for:

  • Creating test beds for “Internet of Things” applications and developing new multi-sector collaborative models: Technological advancements and the diminishing cost of IT infrastructure have created the potential for an “Internet of Things,” a ubiquitous network of connected devices, smart sensors, and big data analytics. The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in this field, and cities represent strong potential test beds for development and deployment of Internet of Things applications. Successfully deploying these and other new approaches often depends on new regional collaborations among a diverse array of public and private actors, including industry, academia, and various public entities.
  • Collaborating with the civic tech movement and forging intercity collaborations: There is a growing community of individuals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits interested in harnessing IT to tackle local problems and work directly with city governments. These efforts can help cities leverage their data to develop new capabilities. Collaborations across communities are likewise indispensable for replicating what works in new places.
  • Leveraging existing Federal activity: From research on sensor networks and cybersecurity to investments in broadband infrastructure and intelligent transportation systems, the Federal government has an existing portfolio of activities that can provide a strong foundation for a Smart Cities effort.
  • Pursuing international collaboration: Fifty-four percent of the world’s population live in urban areas. Continued population growth and urbanization will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. The associated climate and resource challenges demand innovative approaches. Products and services associated with this market present a significant export opportunity for the U.S., since almost 90 percent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia.

It’s great to see Obama’s modest investment ($160m wont get you far but it will kick-start your smart city in to action) incentivising cities to work with their native and other universities. In the UK the Innovate UK/ Catapult approach has attempted to do a similar thing although it has got somewhat tied up redtape. As a result UK cities such as Glasgow (who benefitted most from the smart city / Future Cities call for funding on the back of its Commonwealth Games bid), Bristol, London, Birmingham and Manchester have developed ever closer links with their universities to develop governance, technology, data and behaviour insight to rethink energy, transport, waste, services. Other cities, such as Liverpool (read by previous blog here), have clear recommendations from the work of their commissions to engage with their universities to make this happen: The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities was one recommendation in the Mayor’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability. Leeds and Sheffield universities are beginning to work with their city councils with the former recognising the opportunity for collaborative, shared, posts to take the agenda forward. I hope, in due course, the city I work in, Nottingham, will do likewise to utilise the expertise that exists within both Nottingham universities.

The Obama Administration has, rather prescriptively, made some clear commitments in its announcements this week including:

Building a Research Infrastructure for Smart Cities

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is announcing over $35 million in Smart Cities-related grants and planning new investments in FY16. With a new foundation-wide effort devoted to Smart and Connected Communities, NSF will bring academic researchers and community stakeholders together to unlock transformational progress on important challenges — including health and wellness, energy efficiency, building automation, transportation, and public safety — through research to integrate new digital tools and engineering solutions into the physical world. NSF announcements in support of this agenda include:

  • $11.5 million in new awards to develop and scale next-generation Internet application prototypes that leverage gigabit speeds to achieve transformative impact in areas ranging from health care to public safety. These investments include new awards to US Ignite, Inc., and the Mozilla Foundation to create “Living Labs,” or communities of practice that facilitate the participation of citizens and community organizations, as well as idea and application sharing, across cities and regions. US Ignite is a public-private collaboration spanning over 40 cities and communities across the Nation. The Mozilla Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting openness, innovation, and participation on the Internet.
  • $10 million in new Cyber-Physical Systems Program research awards focused on Smart and Connected Communities. These awards support research in the integration of computing, networking, and physical systems, such as in self-driving cars and smart buildings. The research awards being announced today help to establish the foundation for Smart Cities and the “Internet of Things.” One such award, to Kansas State University, will fund research on novel approaches to integrate distributed power sources, such as rooftop solar panels and storage batteries, with the existing electric power grid.
  • $7.5 million in proposed FY16 spending for urban science that will support research that integrates advanced digital tools with the physical world to improve quality of life, health and wellbeing, and learning in communities.
  • $4 million to support academic-industry collaborations to translate innovative research and emerging technologies into smart service systems, such as smart energy services and on-demand transportation.
  • $3 million for the University of Chicago to support the creation of the Array of Things in Chicago, the first such network to serve as an infrastructure for researchers to rapidly deploy sensors, embedded systems, computing, and communications systems at scale in an urban environment. Comprised of 500 nodes deployed throughout the city of Chicago, each with power, Internet, and a base set of sensing and embedded information systems capabilities, the Array of Things will continuously measure the physical environment of urban areas at the city block scale and unlock promising new research trajectories.
  • $2.5 million for researchers to participate in the 2015 NIST Global City Teams Challenge, which supports “high-risk, high-reward” research on the effective integration of networked computing systems and physical systems to meet community challenges.
  • $2.5 million in new research awards to support improvements in the design and operation of interdependent critical infrastructure, such as electrical power and transportation systems, ensuring they are resilient to disruptions and failures from any cause.
  • $2 million in new Smart and Connected Health research awards with a focus on Smart and Connected Communities. The awards being announced today will support the development of next-generation health care solutions that leverage sensor technology, information and machine learning technology, decision support systems, modeling of behavioral and cognitive processes, and more.
  • A new Dear Colleague Letter encouraging Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research proposals, as well as supplemental proposals to existing grants, to grow a Smart and Connected Communities research community and pilot early-stage efforts.
  • Advancing outreach and collaboration on connected and automated vehicles. On November 4-5, 2015, the University Transportation Centers (UTC) research program will host a conference on the impact of connected and automated vehicles on transportation – to include, planning, policy, land use, design as well as smart cities areas of interest: operations, freight movements, and transit.New Multi-City Collaborations to Support Smart CitiesMore than 20 city-university collaborations are launching the MetroLab Network, with more than 60 Smart City projects in the next year. Supported by a newly announced grant of $1 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MetroLab Network will leverage university expertise to address challenges facing cities and regions across the country.  The Network will provide a platform upon which established and emerging city-university relationships can share successful projects, coordinate multi-city, multi-university research efforts, and compete for research and project funding.  The founding members have collectively committed to undertaking more than 60 projects over the next year, which will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure and services in our cities and communities and increase the productivity and competitiveness of our regional economies.  Communities and their university counterparts signing onto the network with a joint letter to the President include:
    • Atlanta, with Georgia State University and Georgia Tech
    • Boston, with Boston Area Research Initiative
    • Chicago, with the University of Chicago
    • Cuyahoga County, with Case Western University
    • Dallas, with Texas Research Alliance
    • Detroit, with Wayne State University
    • Houston, with Rice University
    • Madison, with University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • Memphis, with University of Memphis
    • Minneapolis & St. Paul, with University of Minnesota
    • Montgomery County, with University of Maryland and Universities at Shady Grove
    • New York City, with New York University
    • Philadelphia, with Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania
    • Pittsburgh, with Carnegie Mellon University
    • Portland, with Portland State University
    • Providence, with Brown University, College Unbound, and Rhode Island School of Design
    • San Diego, with University of California San Diego
    • San Jose, with San Jose State University
    • Seattle, with University of Washington
    • South Bend, with University of Notre Dame
    • Washington, DC, with Howard University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University

It’s wise, smart even, to facilitate and incentivise collaboration between city governments and universities. Both in the US and in the UK this has been happening but perhaps ad hoc and now the bigger carrots Obama is dangling is encouraging more to step up to the plate in the US. It helps prove the concept works and more cities in Europe, South America, North America, the Middle East, Far East, Russia, China, India et al should embrace this approach. It could be the single biggest contribution any university could gift the city that allowed it to grow and succeed.

Advertisements

What has open council data ever done for us? | CityMetric

What has open council data ever done for us? 

In a recently published piece, By Marc Ambasna-Jones, writes: It’s been nearly a year since Eric Pickles, the UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government issued a policy statement  requesting that local councils open up their data to the public.   

Since then, progress has been slow – but there has been progress. A number of cities (Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge, London) have published open data sets. But without a common access point, or a declaration of available data like theOpen Data Census in the US, it’s hard to know how many.

The big question now is: is transparency enough?

Boris Johnson thinks so. In October this year, London’s mayor, a keen advocate of municipal open data, launched London’s second data store. At the time, he said it would provide “a wealth of material that the world’s brightest minds will be able to use to develop new insight and apps that can be used to solve the big city problems”. The inference is that if you open the data the developers will come.

In truth, the expectation that Town Halls, many of which are facing huge funding cuts – particularly in those northern cities where the opportunity to exploit open data is so great, really haven’t embraced this fully. A few notable examples of cities that have taken this on have largely been backed by the belief that it will really stimulate local economies or they have been effectively subsidised by initiatives such as the Future Cities programme.

Now, as the need for innovation, efficiency and economic stimulus is at its most acute our Town Halls are, arguably, at their most cash-strapped. Overcoming this hurdle is key. It’s not enough to require, as Eric Pickles did, Town Halls to open up their data. Support, stimulus and subsidy to generate a significantly bigger pool of leaders in this field is needed. That way our municipalities, local enterprise partnerships and local authorities will be left behind.

 

The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’ | Cities | The Guardian

The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’ | Cities | The Guardian.

The smart city concept arguably dates back at least as far as the invention of automated traffic lights, which were first deployed in 1922 in Houston, Texas. Leo Hollis, author of Cities Are Good For You, says the one unarguably positive achievement of smart city-style thinking in modern times is the train indicator boards on the London Underground. But in the last decade, thanks to the rise of ubiquitous internet connectivity and the miniaturisation of electronics in such now-common devices as RFID tags, the concept seems to have crystallised into an image of the city as a vast, efficient robot – a vision that originated, according toAdam Greenfield at LSE Cities, with giant technology companies such as IBM, Cisco and Software AG, all of whom hoped to profit from big municipal contracts.

India’s view of “smart” cities differs from West | Citiscope

India’s view of “smart” cities differs from West | Citiscope.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to construct 100 “smart cities” has fueled speculation about his intentions. After all, the term is synonymous with futuristic, tech-savvy innovators such as Singapore and Songdo. India’s Zee News reports, however, that Modi’s definition is far more simple. To him, a city is smart if it can provide essential utilities and avoid traffic gridlock.

Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu shed light on Modi’s vision during a recent speech at the US-India Smart Cities Conclave in New Delhi. He emphasized the importance of “uninterrupted” energy and water service, along with “proper sanitation” and “efficient management of solid waste.” Other priorities include better roads and high-speed Internet connectivity.

While India may design smart cities on its own terms, it’s relying heavily on the West for guidance, the article says. The United States will assist India with improvements to Visakhapatnam, Ajmer and Allahabad. Japan is doing the same for Varanasi while Singapore is lending its expertise to the planned new capital in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, Barcelona has pledged to help India design a smart city near Delhi.

– See more at: http://citiscope.org/citisignals/2014/indias-view-smart-cities-differs-west?utm_source=Citiscope&utm_campaign=62c521b8aa-Mailchimp_2014_12_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ce992dbfef-62c521b8aa-90711181#sthash.rbgRFQRb.dpuf

MOOCing all week with Sustainability, society and you

Over the past two weeks I have participated in The University of Nottingham’s Sustainability, Society and You MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and it’s been a greatly rewarding experience so far. Not only is the content perfect for stimulating big issues and identify how individuals can make a difference, the whole process of learning in this way is interesting in itself.

Over the past two weeks (and there are 6 weeks in total) we have covered topics as diverse, but inter-connected, as food, waste, energy, water and how, in the home, we can make conscious decisions to reduce our impact on the planet’s finite resources.

I have been participating this week whilst attending as many of The University of Nottingham’s programme as part of EU Sustainable Energy Week where the University was able to showcase the great work it’s doing, some of the exemplar buildings, including the Energy Technologies Building and the Creative Energy Homes. It was great to be part of that programme too – which complemented the MOOC as the week went by.

As a practitioner in this field, it’s great to have this resource available to help others engage, share experiences and learn. Our greatest challenge is to understand that to truly become sustainable we must first understand the implications of not being sustainable and what we can do to get there. If you haven’t signed up for the course, I recommend you do – and when you have – share it with your friends, colleagues and associates. It could form a fantastic resource in corporate learning programmes, school classrooms or undergraduate programmes. It’s been designed to be accessible, engaging and uses a range of different media to keep your engagement levels high.

4th Generation Heat Networks

In an earlier blog I discussed how cities in the UK were finally stepping up their investment in energy generation and distribution with a particular emphasis on heat networks in Sheffield, Nottingham and Stoke.

The presentation I made in July 2013 set 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 presentation made in July 2013 set out a city-wide vision for heat networks across Sheffield, blending together heat sources from domestic and commercial waste incineration (Veolia) biomass (E.ON), industrial waste heat (Forgemasters), gas and oil (Veolia, Sheffield City Council and others).

At the time of writing, it is encouraging to see the links between E.ON’s 25MW heat plant at Blackburn Meadows being built out to connect to South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield International Venues and Forgemasters. More disappointingly is the apparent inertia in connecting to the Veolia and Sheffield City Council plants. The potential to reduce carbon emissions, cost and develop greater resilience can only be delivered if ambition, long term vision and commercial differences can be resolved. The City has a key role to play in making this happen and the City Council has a significant asset base to de-risk this investment, including the 50KM+ network operated by Veolia on its behalf. So, it is disappointing that connections proposed originally 3 years ago to Veolia and the Greenland housing estate in Darnall are still to be connected.

 

Cities Take the Lead on District Heating

We are 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.

In the past 10 days, we have seen announcements about investments in local energy generation at a significant scale in Sheffield, in Nottingham and in Stoke. The drivers for this are many – it is not simply a carbon issue, nor is it solely an energy security issue. Nor is it just a revenue generating exercise or an investment in crucial business infrastructure. In fact, it’s all of these things – and more.

Whilst government debates whether nuclear is really our only solution for power and how fracking is our only solution for gas, there has been a quiet revolution underway in our towns and cities. Slowly, almost silently, cities such as Leicester and Coventry have invested in district heating networks, to join more established players like London, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The Government’s contribution, arguably, has been limited to developing some new policy frameworks (albeit without any real teeth) and seedcorn funding some (important) feasibility work in cities that have shown competence and ambition.

Why? Because 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.

In 2010 Sheffield households consumed 3,405GWh of gas. This figure includes gas used for cooking but the majority of this gas was used for heating and hot water. Using the carbon conversion figure of 0.1836kg/KWh[1] this equates to 625,158 T/CO2. District heating has the potential to create large carbon savings. For example, if 25% of this load, some 56,250 properties, were connected to district heating this could save up to 851GWh of gas which would reduce the cities carbon emissions by 156,290 T/CO2 per annum.

In most cases in the UK heat is something that is generated on-site in individual buildings, with customers buying fuel, such as gas, and converting that gas to heat through a boiler system. It is less common to buy heat itself. In other parts of the world, heat networks that transport heat to consumers through a network of insulated pipes are more common and here in Sheffield we have a long track record of creating heat at a commercial rather than domestic scale. A heat network – sometimes known as District Heating – is therefore a distribution technology rather than a heat technology, and its associated carbon emissions depend on the mix of sources for the heat in the pipes.

Heat networks are best deployed where the following conditions are satisfied:

  • long term low/zero carbon heat sources (or stores) are available; and
  • heat networks are capable of meeting average and peak heat demand without depending on fossil fuels in the future. 

Where these circumstances exist, heat networks can play a critical role in helping buildings and industry decarbonise their heat supply. Some pioneering local authorities, such as Sheffield, have already established heat networks in their city centres and are realising the benefits; better resource efficiency, new jobs and contracts, lower energy bills, and reducing fuel poverty.

Heat networks supply heat to a number of buildings or dwellings from a central heat production facility or facilities through an insulated pipe network. Most networks distribute heat using hot water at temperatures between 80-120°C. Where higher temperatures are required, such as for industrial applications heat energy is transported over shorter distances using steam at a few hundred degrees at a range of pressures depending on usage. Heat networks are best suited to areas with high heat demand density which influences how much pipework is needed to supply a given heat demand. They are most likely to be economic in areas that not only have concentrated demand but have fairly consistent demand over time (potentially for twelve months a year).Tower blocks represent a high heat density, as do dense urban communities bordering commercial or public sector buildings such as hospitals, schools or universities.

Because heat networks are able to deliver heat at scale and for a mix of uses, locating heat networks in areas with a mix of sources of demand also allows for the balancing of loads, e.g. housing with night-time peaks and swimming pools with day-time peaks.

Usually, heat networks start small and expand over time, potentially connecting to each other as they grow, creating larger networks that span city centres and a variety of building types. When networks are sufficiently developed, additional heat sources can be connected. As networks become more sophisticated, it may be that customers could have the choice of more than one supplier of heat, making competitive local markets possible.

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.

Key drivers for the expansion of heat networks in Scandinavian countries were concerns about cost and security of supply following the oil price shocks of the 1970s. With no ready source of natural gas, these countries switched from oil boilers to heat networks in cities (and often to biomass and heat pumps in rural areas).The lower level of heat network deployment in the UK reflects the choices made in the past – most significantly the UK’s decision to access affordable natural gas from the North Sea, which provides a cost-effective and reliable source of heating.

The Government recognises that almost half (46%) of the final energy consumed in the UK is used to provide heat. Of this heat, around 75% is used by households and in commercial and public buildings with the remained used for manufacturing in industry. It is recognised that cooling currently accounts for only 0.5% but that it is recognised this is likely to change as a the UK grows warmer as a result of climate change.

 

 

The Government’s Heat Strategy recognises heat networks offer a way to supply heat directly to homes and businesses through a network of pipes, rather than supplying the fuel for people to generate heat on-site. Under some circumstances, heat networks can be the most effective way of supplying low carbon heat to buildings, and can offer greater convenience and reliability to consumers. Heat networks also offer flexibility over time, as a number of different heat sources can supply the same network.

It also recognises that heat networks are best suited to areas with high heat demand density (such as cities with a compact urban form) and that in urban areas they can, with individually controlled and metered heat, be  as reliable as gas boilers. Smaller scale heat networks can also serve buildings like blocks of flats where individual gas boilers may not be an option.

Heat networks are compatible with a wide range of heat supply options and provide a way to distribute low carbon heat, which makes them easily upgradeable, creating flexibility to make the transition to low carbon heat over time with less disruption for consumers and businesses. Most of the cost and disruption occurs at the point of initial construction and installation.

Heat networks need to be considered as a long term investment in the city. The economics mean that a return on investment will be over decades and it is essential to build in future-proofing  to ensure the supply of heat is easily upgradable, provided low/zero carbon sources are available. So in the near term, we can expand existing fossil fuel based heat networks and upgrade them to low carbon fuel supplies to deliver more substantial carbon savings and help to meet the UK’s emissions and renewable energy targets.

Fuel sources for heat networks will need to change over time. Gas CHP may represent a cost-effective and resource-efficient option to develop and supply district heating networks now, but is unlikely to be acceptable in the long term. Government needs to set a framework that encourages the replacement over time of generating plant with increasingly low carbon alternatives. In the right conditions, changing a central heat source for individual buildings is likely to involve less hassle and cost overall for customers than changing stand-alone technologies. Pipes also last significantly longer than individual heat-generating technologies.  Because pipe infrastructure is not fuel specific, a range of technology options can be used to generate the heat which is transported through the network, and each network can have generation plants in multiple locations. This means:

  • networks offer a solution to the problem of limited space in homes and buildings for low carbon technologies like heat pumps or biomass boilers and their accompanying hot water tanks. In urban areas in particular, where space is at a premium, this can be a big advantage; 
  • they can be upgraded over time according to local and national priorities, without impacting on consumers. For example, it may be economic in the short term to power a network with gas CHP, and to replace this with a lower carbon alternative such as biomass CHP in the medium to long term. In-building heat sources can also be replaced over time, but in many cases it may be easier to replace in-building heat sources once, to switch to district heating, and then replace the central heat source when appropriate, than to frequently replace the in-building heat source; 
  • they can take advantage of economies of scale to realise greater efficiencies and keep costs down for consumers; 
  • heat networks themselves can provide seasonal as well as daily storage using large water tanks, offering a simple and practical option which takes up less space than a water tank in every home. This could be important in city centres where land values are very high; and 
  • they can be integrated with Local Authority plans on waste management, air quality, urban regeneration, regional growth, fuel poverty and other social and environmental issues. This is why so many cities already have plans involving the construction of heat networks. 

Heat can also be recovered from industrial sites that generate a lot of excess heat that is usually lost to the atmosphere, or from locations where excess heat is a problem, such as underground tunnels. This heat may be able to be redirected to where it is useful, eliminating the need for further fuel combustion.

In the same way, heat networks can be used to provide cooling which is likely to be required more in the future as a result of climate change, consumer comfort and customer expectation.

The three schemes in Stoke, Nottingham and Sheffield are all funded in different ways – some using ‘City Deal’ funding, others using private sector investment or public money – but the rationale isn’t too different wherever the funds come from.

Don Leiper, Director of New Business at E.ON, said: “Building on the construction of our renewable energy plant at Blackburn Meadows, this is a substantial investment in Sheffield’s energy future and I’m delighted we’ve already been able to secure customers to our network, organisations looking to reduce their carbon footprints and benefit from a secure and locally-produced heat energy supply.

“Blackburn Meadows is already designed to be an efficient and sustainable power generation source, fuelled by waste wood and providing carbon savings the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road each year. By capturing the heat and providing it for use by nearby businesses we are effectively almost doubling the efficiency of the plant and the environmental benefits to customers.”

In Stoke, a similar figure to Sheffield, around £20 million, will be spent creating the Stoke-on-Trent District Heat Network, with £5 million going to Keele University’s smart energy network demonstrator and another £5 million on boosting skills.

The drivers for this are many – it is not simply a carbon issue, nor is it solely an energy security issue. Nor is it just a revenue generating exercise or an investment in crucial business infrastructure. In fact, it’s all of these things – and more.