Boris brings Underground into 21st century with low-carbon investment

London's infamous Tube network will become more energy efficient under new plans to transform Greenwich Power Station into a combined heat and power plant with new gas engines that are cleaner, quieter and up to 90% more efficient.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson today (8 January) confirmed details of the plans, which will see Transport for London (TfL) install six new engines in the power station’s Turbine Hall; providing up to 155,000MWh of cheaper, low-carbon electricity – around 13% of the Tube’s annual requirements.

The new combined heat and power plant will channel waste heat into a brand new local heat network to supply hot water and heating for local buildings including schools and homes, and reducing utility bills for local residents.

“This Victorian landmark, one of the original ‘Cathedrals of Power’, has a long and vital future supporting London’s essential infrastructure,” said Johnson. “With cleaner, more efficient and environmentally friendly new systems, Greenwich Power Station will be brought back up to full use, and go on to perform the function it was originally created for well into the 21st century.

“This important investment in London’s growing low carbon technology sector will not only help power our Tube network, but will also reduce pressure on the National Grid, cut utility bills for local residents, and reduce air pollution from boilers.”

Controlling emissions

London Underground managing director Mike Brown added: “We’ve already taken steps to minimise the energy used by the Tube network and reduce our carbon footprint, such as new trains with regenerative braking and new low energy lighting. By using lower-carbon energy we will be able to minimise emissions further and bear down on the operating costs of the Tube.”

The installation of the new engines will be staggered over the next 20 years to match the development of the heat network. Preparatory work to install the first two engines will begin in April and they are expected to be up and running by 2017.

All six engines will run on natural gas (with the potential to convert to lower carbon fuels in the future), create no smoke, and emissions will be tightly controlled by the Environment Agency.

The Mayor and the Royal Borough of Greenwich are also progressing plans to develop a district heating network which will use waste heat from the new engines as they provide electricity for the London Underground network. Between them, the six engines will have the potential to heat the equivalent of 20,000 homes as well as improving local air quality by reducing boiler emissions of nitrogen dioxide. 

Jobs & growth

These plans are part of the Mayor’s work to invest in the city’s burgeoning low-carbon sector, encouraging more local energy producers and increasing London’s resilience. With London’s population expected to grow by an additional million people in the next 10 years, demand for electricity in the capital is expected to grow by up to four per cent a year. Investment in London’s power infrastructure is a priority identified in the Mayor’s Infrastructure Plan, with Johnson reiterating it is “integral to protecting the capital’s economy, and helping to boost jobs and growth”.

Today, Johnson – who has a target to produce 25% of London’s energy from local sources by 2025 – toured Old Turbine Hall and turned on an existing emergency back-up engine from the original 1970s control room as part of a regular test.

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie