Plans unveiled for UK's largest low-carbon heat network, to be based in London

Energy firm Vattenfall has unveiled plans to develop a heat network that will serve up to 500,000 homes across four London boroughs, claiming the project will be the largest of its kind in the UK.

The network will serve buildings across Bexley, Greenwich (pictured), Newham, Barking and Dagenham

The network will serve buildings across Bexley, Greenwich (pictured), Newham, Barking and Dagenham

The Swedish multinational released the plans today (21 September) and will hold a briefing this evening in the capital to provide more information to stakeholders. It claims that the project will reduce heat-related emissions from homes by up to 90%, in comparison with the traditional model of having an individual gas boiler in every property.

The project has been split into three phases, with Vattenfall and energy-from-waste (EfW) firm Cory primed to begin construction on the first phase in early 2022. During this first phase, heat network infrastructure will be developed to serve 10,500 homes in Bexley, which will receive heat from Cory’s Riverside Resource Recovery facility in Belvedere. This facility itself is due for expansion in the coming months.

At this stage, Vattenfall is still looking at several different potential heat sources for phases two and three of the project, with waste heat from water processing, data centres and electric heat pumps under consideration as well as EfW.

Phase two of the project is expected to serve 21,000 homes in Bexley and Greenwich, with the first customers set to connect to the network in the early 2030s. Phase three will be the largest, serving some 75,000 homes in the same boroughs.

Vattenfall has stated that there is the potential for further expansion to serve up to 500,000 homes by the end of the 2040s. Such an expansion would cover homes in Newham, Barking and Dagenham, as well as additional properties in Bexley and Greenwich. The company has stated that businesses, schools and council buildings could connect to the network as well as domestic properties.

For context, there are currently some 14,000 heat networks in the UK, collectively serving some 480,000 customers.

“Most of London’s 3.5 million homes, and thousands of commercial buildings, are heated using fossil fuels - yet there are abundant other sources of cleaner heat, such as the ground, water or waste heat from industrial processes,” said Vattenfall Heat UK’s managing director Mike Reynolds.

“We’ve got to think big when it comes to removing emissions from heating, on a scale which works for global cities like London. District heating presents the best option for consumers in urban areas. It’s the cheapest source of low-carbon heat, it’s reliable and it’s resilient against energy shocks.”

Reynold’s latter comment comes as the UK faces a gas crisis. Prices have skyrocketed by 250% since January, forcing several small suppliers out of business and prompting some firms manufacturing CO2 for the food industry to cease production.

Government approach

The UK is continuing to await the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which will lay out the Government’s long-term plan for decarbonising these two high-emission sectors. The Strategy was originally due last Autumn and was initially delayed to merge two strategies into one. Further delays have bee attributed to Covid-19 and to disagreement within the Conservative Party as to how the strategy should be funded.

Sources have told edie that the publication of the Strategy is now likely before the end of September.

Earlier this month, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a new Green Heat Network Fund, totalling £270m. The Fund is replacing the previous Heat Networks Investment Project, which provided £165m to projects across England and Wales between 2018 and September 2021.

BEIS has stated that the new Fund will have even stricter low-carbon requirements, in line with the UK’s net-zero target. A statement from the Department reads: “The Heat Networks Investment Project had focused on accelerating the growth of the heat network market and has permitted fossil fuel sources of heat provided they offer carbon reductions and will be replaced by low-carbon alternatives over time.

“However, the successor scheme will incentivise new and existing heat networks in England to move away from high-carbon sources, as well as exploiting waste-heat opportunities while bringing down costs for consumers.”

The Government’s climate advisory body, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), has recommended that at least 18% of the UK’s domestic heat demand is met with heat networks by 2050, up from 2% in 2020.

Sarah George



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