In the pipeline: networks to warm UK homes using surplus heat

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Tens of thousands of homes, offices and hospitals could soon be warmed with surplus heat from factories, incinerator plants and even disused mine shafts under plans by the government to fund low-carbon heating.

The government will spend GBP30m to help set up heat networks across cities including London, Glasgow and Manchester and a further GBP14.6m to develop other low-carbon technologies that can heat and cool buildings without fossil fuels.

The UK’s largest planned heat network will receive just over GBP12m to capture the surplus heat produced at a waste incineration plant in the London borough of Bexley to warm up to 21,000 homes in south-east London.

The Cory waste plant receives 785,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste a year from barges on the Thames which is burned to generate electricity and reduce the waste taken to landfill sites.

Electricity-from-waste plants have come under fire from green campaigners for adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The Cory plant is exploring options to fit the plant with technology to capture its emissions before they are released and claims that its carbon footprint is far lower than landfill waste.

The scheme will be run by Cory in partnership with Swedish utility giant Vattenfall, which hopes to develop enough heat works in the Thames estuary to warm 75,000 homes from low-carbon sources over the next decade.

The latest funding round is part of the government’s plan to cut the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, which will require homes to slash their reliance on fossil fuel gas for heating and cooking.

Lord Callanan, the minister for climate change, said almost a third of all UK carbon emissions come from heating homes “and addressing this is a vital part of eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050”.

Heat networks are considered a vital part of the government’s low-carbon heating plans for urban areas. Electric heat pumps are also expected to play a major role in the government’s soon-to-be-published heating strategy alongside plans to retrofit the gas grid to use clean-burning hydrogen gas.

The government’s funding will include research to develop new low-carbon heating innovations including a project by Durham University to explore whether the water at the bottom of abandoned coal mines could provide a geothermal source of heat.

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“Today’s funding package will accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies that will both reduce emissions and ensure people’s homes are warmer, greener and cheaper to run,” Callanan said.

The energy industry believes ministers are poised to reveal a long awaited heating strategy paper, which will include plans to incentivise better home energy efficiency to meet an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of C or above from 2030, and potentially ban installation of new gas boilers from 2035.

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