Nick Gosling, Group Sales and Strategy Director for Vital Energi, discusses the need to future-proof developments and why it is so important to get heat networks right.
While heat networks are not a new technology, they are an extremely topical one. To put their place in the current energy landscape into perspective, Central Government’s Heat Network Development Unit has funded studies of over 200 projects across 140 local authorities, and the Heat Network Investment Programme (HNIP) was launched in October, bringing £320m to stimulate development of heat networks in England and Wales.
Add to that the fantastic work being done by Scottish Government through their Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme, who are supporting projects for West Dunbartonshire and Fife Councils, and it’s tempting to say that the UK is on the verge of a substantial energy evolution, if not a fully-fledged revolution.
Don’t get stranded
It’s important for all property owners to consider opportunities to future-proof their developments by incorporating district heating, so they can ‘plug into’ low carbon town and city-wide heat networks as they evolve. The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy predicts that 17% of households will be connected to district heating networks by 2050 and many of the projects currently in their early phases have the potential to form the major heat networks of the future. Smaller schemes can benefit enormously by connecting to these, but only if they have high quality installations which are suitable for integration into wider networks.
One of the key ways local authorities and housing associations can do this is by ensuring that all heat networks are delivered to the Heat Network Code of Practice (CP1). CP1 was developed by CIBSE and the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), in consultation with industry, to ensure minimum standards are adopted.
Look to the future
Consideration of whole life costs, including the operation and maintenance phase is essential when planning and delivering a network. The best, most effective networks are maintained and operated with the same care and intelligence with which they were designed and delivered. The worst can be disjointed with no continuation between the planning, designing, delivery and O&M phases.
With suitable maintenance, the pipework in the ground should have a design life of 50 years, but the energy generation technology, Combined Heat & Power for example, may only last only 15 years. This creates an exciting opportunity to adopt the latest, most efficient and lowest carbon technology of the future and the more flexible you can make your network, the more options you will have.
It’s not uncommon for developers to work to 50 plus year master plans and if this long-term approach is adopted for heat networks, from the planning phase onwards, the benefits can be substantial.
Procurement routes and risk transfer
Contractors have developed ways of minimising risk for local authorities and housing associations when it comes to heat networks. These can involve everything from extended warranties through to comprehensive energy performance contracts, which guarantee a range of KPIs including financial and carbon savings. There are a number of routes, which could be considered to procure district heating schemes, including OJEU (typically via competitive dialogue), or through procurement frameworks (of which there are an increasing number which are available to local authorities and housing associations).
Put simply, heat networks are too important to get wrong. Vital Energi has worked with many local authorities and housing associations that, quite rightly, see heat networks as effective ways to reduce carbon, improve air quality, fight fuel poverty, encourage regeneration and increase the flexibility and resilience of supply. Mistakes at any part of the process could result in missed opportunities, inefficiencies or costly repairs for the duration of the projects, which can stretch into decades. The challenges are significant, but success will result in a cleaner, greener, more resilient energy infrastructure for the UK.