The Opportunities of New District Heating

Peter Rolton: Chairman, Rolton Group

When the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced the launch of a £6 million funding programme for the development of district heating and cooling networks across the UK, I was relieved. Energy policy in the UK often plays to the tune of ‘one step forward, two steps backwards’, so to have some clear and undoubtedly positive direction from the government is welcome in my eyes. This is particularly true in light of the recent furore over energy prices; the initiative offers one method through which communities can take some of the power back (no pun intended) from the main energy companies by decentralising their supply. If we are to have a fair and competitive energy industry, Minister for Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker is right to say that ‘the Big Six need to become the Big 60,000’.

Over the next 18 months, local authorities will have the opportunity to bid for a slice of the new funding to go towards the design of projects that translate into real energy, cost and carbon savings. We’re not at the front of the pack here, either: elsewhere in the world, district heating schemes are already de rigueur. For example, Iceland has recognized the potential held within the vast stores of geothermal energy under its surface and has built a heating network that provides sustainable and low-cost heat to the majority of the country’s residents.

Obviously, the UK’s geography is somewhat different to this, and we sadly don’t have access to the same low-hanging fruit. This problem, coupled with the high up-front cost of installing networks that are properly insulated and fully functional, goes some way towards explaining why district heating hasn’t taken off in quite the same manner as it has abroad. What we do have, however, is a desperate need to up the ante in terms of our domestic energy production. As nice as it would be to have free energy ready for use on our doorstep, we’ve got to look at other options and, sadly, other options aren’t cheap.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however: combined heat and power (CHP) plants are designed to minimise heat loss throughout the process of creating electricity by recapturing and channeling it, thereby making it an ideal candidate for district heating. Waste to energy plants also present an opportunity for councils to reduce their waste sent to landfill by recycling it, which helps them towards reaching the EU target of a 50% recycling rate by 2020. Clean gasification represents a different class from traditional incineration methods; it’s the way forward for waste to energy, and although there are still some who still protest against it, these plants should be recognised for the important role they can have in supporting communities.

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As Chairman of the Rolton Group, Peter provides high-level strategic advice to a range of governmental, public sector and commercial clients. He is an acknowledged specialist in the renewable energy sector, and there is good reason for this: when it comes to energy, Peter is clear about the issues we face and the need for a cohesive strategy to tackle them. He is a passionate advocate of informed debate, and has consistently brought clarity to this complex situation."If the UK is united on one thing about energy it is that, on an individual basis, the public knows what it’s not in favour of. When it comes to offering up solutions, it’s not that confident. Pointing at single solutions like wind farms and saying that they are too expensive is missing the point. Carbon-based forms of energy like oil and gas are running out. Energy is going to be more expensive and a portfolio of renewable energies will necessarily be part of our solution in the future." Peter holds particular expertise in the areas of site-wide energy planning, zero carbon power generation, low carbon design, carbon offsetting and the application of renewable technology. He has acted as a Government advisor on numerous consultations and white papers, presenting to the Secretary of State on a number of occasions on the subject of renewable planning and public sector engagement. He has worked as a strategic partner with some of the world’s largest and most successful blue-chip companies, and is a Director of Renewables East, the renewable energy agency for the east of England.Peter is both a chartered building services engineer and a chartered member of the Institute of Energy, and has gained accreditation under the Carbon Trust Consultant Accreditation Scheme for solution development, with particular expertise in the establishment of energy strategies. He founded his first business, Rolton Services Consultants Limited, in 1989, and founded Cool Planet Technologies, a specialist renewable energy delivery partner which was sold to British Gas in 2010. He has been the architect of the path through which Rolton Group has addressed the challenges of renewables, carbon and the built environment."We need to see the bigger picture and not become hung up on individual technologies and individual costs. We need a completely different technology mix and not a reliance on one form of energy supply. We need all forms of technology to be applied – and we need it to happen quickly."

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