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The CHPA with Arup recently held a one day district heating conference entitled ‘Re-thinking District Heating: Removing the barriers for successful projects’ which featured some great speakers covering a breadth of topical issues of concern to the industry and users. Check out the Storify for a collection of 140 character thoughts from the day.
I’ve attended a good number of similar events over the past few years, but it’s clear that there now exists a real sense of momentum amongst local authorities, along with a recognition that their ambition to take greater control over the provision of energy to their communities is finally being supported by government.
There were a number of interesting points raised on the day – here’s five that I picked up on:
1. With over 50% of the audience representing local authorities, it’s clear that there is a huge level of interest by local government in taking forward district energy projects.
Over the past few years a number of initiatives from organisations such as Carbon Trust, Scottish government, the District Heating Vanguards, Combined Heat and Power Association, London government and pioneering local authorities have paved the way for the successful launch of the Heat Networks Delivery Unit (HNDU).
In just a few short months, HNDU has successful financed 76 local authority projects in the first two rounds of funding applications which a further 50 local authorities having expressed interest in applying for the third funding round, which recently closed.
2. Though there has been lots of district energy feasibility, economic and commercial analysis commissioned over the past few years, it’s not always been easy to identify or locate, which is disappointing, as it would be great to share this knowledge across the local government sector (I should say, the London Heat Map does however make a good attempt at doing this). Hence it’s good to hear that DECC have made it a requirement that research funded by HNDU must be made widely accessible. It’s not clear where all this information will be held – but hopefully that will become apparent soon!
3. With the heightened level of interest in district energy – and an injection of funding by government – it’s perhaps not surprising that all this activity is leading to significant demands for district energy expertise. With the government’s Heat Strategy pointing to as much as 20% of heating coming from heat networks by 2020 or 40% by 2050, there is a real issue of a potential skills shortage in the sector which needs to be addressed by government and industry.
4. A great presentation by Metropolitan, the ESCO operator of the Kings Cross CHP and district heating network highlighted that new build heat density is not always the determining factor in deciding the financial viability for district heating. If trenches being constructed to hold district heating pipes also handle other utility services such as water, electricity and telecommunications, the costs can be easily spread.
5. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – a message that came through was policy clarity and stability are a huge deciding factor in helping both industry and users decide on strategies to invest in district energy.
The government’s original zero carbon target sent out a clear message about how developments would need to be designed to incorporate low carbon solutions.
However, each subsequent announcement by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Ministers has weakened the policy, effectively diluting the original zero carbon intention by nearly two-thirds.
This contrasts with London government, where a much clearer policy intent in the London Plan on the use of decentralised energy systems has now led to a renaissance in the use of district heating in the capital.