It is no secret that more energy is used in the UK for heating than for transport and for the generation of electricity. To put it another way, the annual heating bill for the UK is £33bn. No small sum.
Because of increasing demand for more and more energy, the cost of that energy increases. Whether it is Wind energy, nuclear energy, bio fuels or even tidal energy, the efficiency of energy is more important than ever before. The future won’t be just about individual structures, but how they interact within a region, and how their different demands at different times can boost effectiveness. In other words, the more efficient the energy, the more used to will be used.
‘District heating and cooling’ is a highly effective method that ensures both a secure competitive energy supply for businesses and domestic dwellings, while cleverly reducing the carbon emitted. This is an excellent way of reducing the carbon foot print that is ever present whenever a car engine is ignited, or fuel is burned. This has a negative impact on our environment. By incorporating DHC in more and more homes and businesses, the effect and awareness will have long standing positive effects on our O-zone layer and the immediate environment.
The way a DHC system works is fairly simple. The network consists of pre-insulated flow and return pipes connecting each building’s heating and/or cooling system to a centralised ‘energy centre’. The DHC water can be used directly in the building’s heating system or through a heat exchanger.
District cooling is very similar to district heating. With many of the attributes being the same, the only difference is a different level of varying temperature. District cooling networks typically have flow temperatures of 4 to 6 deg C and return flow temperatures of 12 to 14 deg C, making them perfectly compatible with standard building services systems.
The cooling source may be provided by absorption chillers (as part of a tri-generation system with combined heat and power), or by large-scale compression chillers.
Cofely, one of the UK District Energy Association’s members District Energy, has an award-winning tri-generation scheme which saves over 11,000 tonnes of carbon a year. By using a specific combination of geothermal well, conventional boilers and CHP, supplying heating and cooling to more than 30 large energy users including TV studios, a university and a shopping centre. Using Cofely’s excellent example, reducing carbon is no longer a far off thought for smaller businesses and homes.
However, like anything that we humans have produced since the dawn of time is the barrier for this technology - the cost. A DHC network requires a fairly large capital investment, and of course, any scheme should be valued and assessed with long-term strategic benefits in mind if the cost is not worth the guaranteed fact of revenue, plans of this sort are difficult to get off the ground. While it is very attractive to install networks during the development or construction phase of a large redevelopment project, buildings can also be connected retrospectively, and DHC can be connected to existing buildings.
Despite the huge potential of the technology, DHC networks are estimated to provide less than 2 per cent of the UK’s heat demand, supplying 172,000 domestic buildings, and a range of commercial and industrial applications. So you can see why many investors are reluctant to take the plunge and risk potential losses.
Energy minister Greg Barker has voiced his support for the budding UK sector; last year, the minister responsible for the government’s heat strategy outlined that district energy was “an opportunity to diversify our sources of heat, make our processes more efficient and our companies more competitive, to develop our cities and towns in sustainable ways that prepare us for a low carbon future”.
The UKDEA has worked closely with the Department of Energy & Climate Change to ensure that heating and cooling is an integral element of energy market reform and energy security. Government departments have acknowledged DHC schemes as being a suitable and practical approach to decarbonise heat while at the same time reducing customers’ bills.
An appropriate energy mix for the heating and cooling sector is vital for performance, and this means adopting a suitable fuel and technology mix, adopting viable renewable technologies while integrating other high efficiency, low carbon technologies including CHP and energy from waste (EfW).
The huge potential for the technology has yet one more major drawback. What’s currently holding it back in the UK to a large degree is the lack of awareness. There have been instances where developers have chosen their preferred heating and cooling system for a new development, only to discover during the construction phase that connecting to a nearby DHC network is more financially viable. Greater awareness at local authority and local government level would assist with connection opportunities, as construction companies could be made aware at the planning stage.
Members of the UKDEA have seen a notable increase in demand for district cooling supplies over recent years. DHC networks have been recognised across the commercial and residential sector as achieving significant savings compared with whole lifecycle costs of owning and operating an energy plant on site.
As we cascade through 2013, it is important to spread awareness of these energy efficient technologies, not just DHC, but Wind and Tidal energy and bio fuels, to name a few. The ever present, looming reality that we live on a finite planet with a limited supply of non-renewable energy is a fact. This fact has never been more real, the cost of our wastefulness will eventually catch up with us, and if we don’t act now, as a planet, our very existence is in jeopardy.
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