Peterborough unveils plans for UK's largest low-carbon 'smart-city' regeneration project

Peterborough City Council has unveiled a plan to host the UK's largest smart, low-carbon city energy system including renewable electricity generation, energy storage and heat networks.

The Peterborough-wide project is expected to cut household and business energy bills by up to 25% once completed in 2022

The Peterborough-wide project is expected to cut household and business energy bills by up to 25% once completed in 2022

Supported by the UK Government’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) arm, the £2m scheme will see additional solar and energy-from-waste electricity generation capacity installed across the city-region.

To help overcome the variable outputs of these generation methods, the scheme, called the Peterborough Integrated Renewables Infrastructure project (PIRI), will also see battery storage capacity installed and businesses and households encouraged to flex their energy demands.

A more flexible energy system will not only enable more renewable generation on the local grid but support the shift to electric transport, which will increase electricity demand, the Council claims. To that end, the PIRI plans include measures for businesses and households looking to install electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure to do so at cost parity with the costs associated with driving a petrol or diesel vehicle.

As for heat, PIRI includes plans for a “next-generation” heat network to be installed to serve businesses and flats in the city centre. Heat networks fed by ground-source or air-source technology are not intrinsically “net-zero” and do produce emissions but are considered less carbon-intense than individual gas boilers. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has consistently claimed that heat networks should deliver up to 18% of UK heating demand by 2030.

Peterborough City Council claims that by making “integrated” changes to heat, electricity and transport, households and businesses will see their energy bills decrease by up to one-quarter. The local authority will offer an integrated billing service for heat, electricity and mobility to enable easier tracking of savings.

The PIRI project is expected to be completed in 2022, eight years ahead of Peterborough City Council’s net-zero target.

In order to deliver the infrastructure, systems, processes and services set our in the PIRI plan, the local authority is working with SSE’s Enterprise arm, consultancies Element Energy and Sweco UK, Cranfield University and software provider Smarter Grid Solutions.

SSE Enterprise’s managing director of distributed energy Nathan Sanders said the business hopes PIRI “will demonstrate the potential of smart cities to drive local decarbonisation in a commercially viable manner”

“It takes a ‘whole systems approach’ to energy one step further by integrating all socio-technical elements into one solution that can help councils hit their net-zero targets,” he said.

Once PIRI is up and running, Peterborough City Council has said it will provide other local authorities with details of the plan, that they may use it as a “blueprint” to deliver against their own climate and energy commitments.

More than half of the UK’s councils have declared a ‘climate emergency’, with many having set net-zero targets more ambitious than the national Government’s 2050 framework.

Humber pressure

In related news, the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has this week put forward an energy strategy for the region, aimed at pressuring the national Government and local authorities to deliver “cleaner and more diversified energy sources throughout the region”.

Building on Drax, Equinor and National Grid’s plans to create the world’s first zero-carbon industrial hub in the energy estuary by 2040 – a facility which will combine a carbon capture and storage (CCS) network with hydrogen and biomass technologies – the LEP strategy details a string of smaller-scale community-level projects.

It outlines how brownfield sites could be used to install solar panels in towns and cities across the region; how investment could be garnered for low-carbon heat-pumps for off-grid rural homes and how schools and public buildings could be retrofitted with energy efficiency measures.

Also included in the strategy are district heating networks for homes near heavy industry facilities, so that they can be served with waste heat, and ‘smart’ heating and electricity network requirements for all new-build housing.

The strategy concludes that if all of its measures are implemented in full, the region could mitigate the emission of 9 Mt of CO2 annually – equivalent to 72% of its overall CO2 footprint in 2017.

The framework was developed with input from Siemens’ UK arm, which is working with the UK Government and 92 UK councils to develop low-carbon energy strategies – and garner the investment needed to meet them.

In order to turn the strategy’s key points from ambition to action, the LEP is contacting community groups and parish councils to offer grant funding for community renewables projects. It is also lobbying for devolved energy efficiency funding for Humber in the upcoming Budget; helping Hull City Council to bid for an energy efficiency programme and collaborating with external stakeholders such as CATCH and the University of Hull.

“We are already known as the Energy Estuary and we are a leader in large-scale renewable energy, but our Energy Strategy shows that even down to a very localised – or even individual level – change is possible,” LEP chair Lord Haskins said.

“This strategy will be an important part of the Humber’s transition towards a net-zero carbon economy, and will support the creation of new opportunities from clean growth in the region.”

On the latter, the strategy states that its measures could attract £6.75bn of investment in the region and create more than 20,000 jobs.

Sarah George



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