In practice: University of Northampton’s onsite biomass energy centre

A state-of-the-art new campus at the University of Northampton has embraced a renewable energy solution through a £6.5m energy centre which incorporates woodchip biomass boilers and a combined heat and power (CHP) system.

The challenge

The development at the University’s new £330m Waterside campus has required the regeneration of a brownfield site, into an environmentally friendly campus that will provide state-of-the-art academic facilities for 15,000 students.

The University, in partnership with clean energy provider Vital Energi, saw an opportunity to boost its sustainability credentials by providing students at the University of Northampton with heating and hot water generated by a CO2-saving onsite energy centre.

The solution

The Waterside campus, which opens in September 2018, has been designed to be as energy efficient as possible. The campus will have 100% of its heating and hot water needs served by the new energy centre by using woodchip biomass and gas. The £6.5m project arrives after the completion of the 1.6km district heating network which will distribute the heat and hot water to 16 buildings around the campus.

The new heating system will see more than half (54%) of the heat generated from CHP, with the remainder coming from biomass (35%) and gas (11%) boilers. The 1MW biomass boiler will create low-carbon hot water which is distributed through the district heating network to provide heating and hot water for the buildings on campus. The energy centre also contains three 4MW gas fired boilers and a 120m3 thermal store.

The specific orientation and shape of the building have been positioned to minimise its artificial cooling, lighting and heating requirements. LED/eco-florescent lighting is also being implemented, along with high-thermal performance windows.

The benefits

The new energy centre is expected to lower carbon emissions by more than 1,000 tonnes in the short-term, saving more than 2,200tCO2e a year compared with conventional heating systems when fully operational. This is the equivalent to taking 431 cars off the road annually. The energy centre will also include a unique LED screen on a flue shaft which has been incorporated to enhance the visual architecture of the building.

The Waterside Campus is anticipated to have a fundamental positive impact on the town and its economy. It brings a 58-acre derelict site back to life and kick-starts development in Northampton’s Enterprise Zone, embracing its riverside setting and creating an exciting new destination for Northampton.

The future

The campus will incorporate a plethora of other energy-saving measures, including LED lights, energy-efficient building design features and an advanced energy monitoring and control system. The University’s energy strategy includes plans to introduce a number of ‘smart’ features to the campus, including an adaptive heating ventilation and air conditioning system that adjusts to the number of occupants and current air quality in the building to optimise fan speeds and drive efficiency.

The campus will also be employing a sub-metering system that will ensure that 90% of input energy will be accounted for and distributed efficiently. The Building Management System (BMS) will automatically monitor all sub meters, ensuring the energy is being managed effectively.

George Ogleby

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