Newcastle borehole tests to determine potential for heating network

Further investigations into Newcastle's geothermal borehole will determine the prospects for a new city-wide, low carbon heating network. Peter McCusker reports

An engineer checks machinery at the city centre borehole site
An engineer checks machinery at the city centre borehole site

Cities account for 75% of energy use and 80% of carbon dioxide emissions and offer major wins in the bid to hit emissions reductions targets.

And with heating accounting for almost 50% of all energy use Newcastle City Council is driving forward ambitions plans for a low carbon heat network.

The city has local heat networks in Byker and Elswick, supplying almost 4,000 homes, with a work underway on a further scheme in Scotswood and plans progressing for a fourth in the city’s Civic Quarter.

In the next few days further tests at the Science Central development, the 24-acre site of the former Scottish & Newcastle brewery, will determine the prospects for a heat network for it – and possibly the rest of the city.

The geothermal borehole on Science Central was drilled in 2011 to a depth of 1,821 metres, where it connected to a proven geothermal source with temperatures in excess of 70°C.

With the temperature sufficient to support a heat network the new tests will determine water volumes and the extent of a possible new network.

Science City, which is a partnership between Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University has the lead role for delivering Science Central, says: “A series of tests is due to be carried out on Newcastle’s geothermal borehole later this month to see whether the geothermal water underneath the 24-acre development can be used as a potential source of renewable energy.

“The geothermal source is situated on Science Central, which is set to become an exemplar in sustainability in the region. The pump testing will determine whether the geothermal source has the potential to provide heat and hot water to the site as part of the overall energy strategy for Science Central, or indeed the wider Newcastle City Council district heat network.”

Fiona Standfield, director of Newcastle Science City, added: “One of the aims for Science Central is to create a UK test bed for the latest technologies and energy advancements that could help pave the way for the future of energy management.”

The city’s first heat network was established in the award-winning Byker Wall development in the 1970s and its gas heat and power boilers were recently replaced with low carbon biomass.

Allen Jones, energy masterplanner at Newcastle City Council, said: “The development of a city-wide heat network is now a real possibility with the existing, planned and potential schemes coming together as one large network at some point in the future.

“A heat network will then provide a viable alternative to existing grid-based energy in the city and support the development of an energy services company as well.

“As well as understanding the potential to supply heating and cooling in the city we also have the opportunity to take advantage of the geothermal potential being explored on the Science Central site.

“If this proves to be a financially viable and a cost-effective source of usable heat then this could provide a significant low carbon heat to the Science Central site and wider network in the future.”

The council aims to ensure heat networks are considered in new city developments such as at the Stephenson Quarter, Forth Yards and East Pilgrim Street.

The heat network will have to be able to provide enough heat for a network to be financially viable.

As the city’s network develops the council hopes that future developments will feed into the system and the larger it becomes then the more economically viable it is.

At the Stephenson Quarter the new Crowne Plaza hotel will feature a combined heat and power gas boiler. In the Civic Quarter scheme, the proposals will see waste heat from one of the major sites support district heating links to nearby premises.

The Government last month unveiled plans to support community energy projects, including district heating networks and is funding some of Newcastle’s work.

If the city can confirm the potential and economics the Government says it may be able to get funding from the Green Investment Bank.

Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker said: “The Community Energy Strategy marks a change in the way we approach powering our homes and businesses – bringing communities together and helping them save money – and make money too.

“The Coalition is determined to unleash this potential, assist communities to achieve their ambitions and drive forward the decentralised energy revolution.

“We want to help more consumers of energy to become producers of energy and in doing so help to break the grip of the dominant big energy companies.”

Jones added: “The Renewable Heat Incentive and provisions in the National Heat Strategy could also provide a timely boost to the financial viability of such schemes if renewable heat is deployed as part of the future network infrastructure.

“Developing schemes in a phased way based on a number of smaller schemes in the short to medium term is the way forward initially, but ultimately the ambition must be to link these schemes in a wider city-wide heat network.

“The heat required by the network could of course be provided in a number of other ways which could be from a mixture of low carbon and renewable sources but this will be dependent on financial viability

“The network is likely to develop on a scheme by scheme basis over the next twenty to thirty years and public sector heat loads usually form the backbone of a network so it could be a good investment opportunity to start to develop our own schemes over time and look to link the schemes at a later date.

“To utilise the existing, planned and future development sites in Newcastle to build on the current heat infrastructure within the city to create a network that can link the east and west of the city through into the city-centre.

“The heat network will provide renewable and low carbon heating and cooling to public sector buildings, commercial and residential properties as set out in the city’s Energy Masterplan.”

Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council said: “We are working to make Newcastle one of the world’s most sustainable cities, and this means having ambitious plans to reduce carbon consumption overall as well as finding new ways of helping residents and businesses reduce their energy bills.

“We are piloting a range of ideas to help us find new energy generation and carbon reduction measures which are economical as well as commercially viable.”

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What is district heating?

In Finland and Denmark over 50% of properties are connected to district heating systems. This was a policy initiated after the sharp oil price rises in the early 1970s led to a focus on energy efficiency. The UK was insulated from the effects by North Sea oil. In district heating systems the aim is to produce low carbon, renewable heating and power locally, and distribute it through a local network. Where district heating networks can achieve a penetration of 80% then the carbon abatement costs are better than most standalone renewable options, say its supporters.

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Wind's contribution to UK energy rose by almost 50% last year, new research from North East energy sector data specialists EnAppSys has reported.

In 2013 the growth in onshore and offshore wind saw it contribute 6% of total energy use, which was a 48% increase on 2012 and 405% more than in 2010. Coal-fired power still provided the dominant share of total energy production, reports the 2013 GB Electricity Supply & Generation Summary compiled by EnAppSys.

During 2013 coal-fired power stations provided 41% of all GB power requirements, whilst combined cycle gas turbine units provided 26%, nuclear 21% and wind farms a further 6%.

The rise in coal’s share of the country’s power output has been attributed largely to declining activity in gas-fired electricity generation, which is mainly the result of falling coal prices, the collapse of the EU ETS carbon price and rising liquid natural gas prices due to amongst other factors, Fukushima.

The drivers on coal prices are the reduction in US coal consumption due to gas displacing coal for power generation because of the shale gas boom. Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, said: “Last year several older coal-fired stations were closed down as a part of an EU-led directive to reduce Europe-wide sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions and the introduction of the UK’s carbon floor price, with further closures expected in the coming years as further European directives are implemented. Nevertheless, coal continued to dominate UK power production.

“In the future, increases in gas-fired and wind capacity are expected to replace lost coal capacity, with wind in particular forecast to provide a greater share of total energy production as more projects come on stream.”

However coal’s dominance in UK electricity generation is set to fall as more plants are closed due to emissions directives in the coming years.

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US shale experts to speak at energy conference

Hundreds of energy sector professionals will descend on the North East tomorrow to learn about how the industry is forging ahead and creating new and diverse business opportunities for the supply chain

Energy: A Balanced Future, which takes place at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead, really focuses on providing the NOF Energy supply chain with a good understanding of new industry trends and initiatives, highlighting key industry projects and providing the forum where members can seek new business relationships in addition to meeting new customers.

Shale gas is for the first time on the conference programme. NOF Energy has identified through a recent survey of members that 60% of respondents were interested to learn more about the sector and the type of opportunities that may present for the supply chain. Shale gas experts from the USA will speak at the event, outlining how shale gas production has significantly reduced gas prices and carbon emissions in the country, and how the economy has seen significant benefits.

From a UK perspective and as part of a balanced future, onshore gas production has the potential to be one of the solutions to the UK’s future energy needs and security of supply.

As for the opportunities for the supply chain here in the UK, the energy sector has forged a reputation for transferring its knowledge and skills into evolving markets and this trait will stand it in good stead when it comes to shale gas extraction going forward.

Keeping abreast of Government energy policies is also very important to help companies shape their own future strategies and business plans. So, delegates will be eager to hear from keynote speaker Charles Hendry MP, who will be speaking on behalf of the Department of Climate Change and Energy about the UK industrial strategy for Oil & Gas in the UK.

Both nuclear and offshore renewables are also being addressed at the conference, but the conference wraps up with a presentation by energy strategists Douglas-Westwood, which will set the scene for the global energy outlook. The UK supply chain, through many years of working in the harsh environment of the North Sea and its ability to introduce solutions and innovative technologies to industry means the global energy arena really is in its sights for future export success.

The conference and exhibition has fast become a key feature in the UK energy events calendar and with over 350 expected to attend on the day this certainly is the place where the energy industry meets to network and do business.

By Joanne Leng, MBE, deputy chief executive of NOF Energy

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