Steve Hodgson

Last week’s story of the Mayor of London’s plans to upgrade Greenwich Power Station with the addition of six new gas engines to provide power to the city’s London Undergound train network had everything – the preservation of a 1906 riverside power station building; the Mayor, Boris Johnson, himself touring the historic site; and a new source of electricity generation for the south London local authority.

But it is the last ingredient, the development of a new heat network to carry hot water from the power station to serve local buildings, that made the announcement even more important for CHP, and for local, low carbon energy supplies.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson 

The power station currently supplies only standby power for the tube transport network, using gas turbines installed in 1972; its conversion into a gas engine-based CHP scheme will enable the capture of heat produced in the plant for use locally. Initially, two engines will feed heat into a network being developed to include blocks of publicly-owned homes, schools and libraries, with further engines added as the network grows

London’s Mayor has a target to produce a quarter of the city’s total energy from local sources by 2025 and is taking a leading role in vigorous moves to develop new district heating infrastructure in the UK, backed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and its ‘Heat Network Delivery Unit’. Much of Britain’s district heating capacity was originally built in the 1960s and 70s to serve large public housing estates, many of these in London, but the technology subsequently fell out of favour in favour of individual gas-fuelled heating systems. The last few years have seen its revival across several cities and into private sector developments as the cost, low carbon and local benefits of efficient district energy schemes are increasingly recognised.

So when DECC published a report into investment into energy networks last week, heat networks got their own chapter, alongside those for the rather more extensive electricity and gas networks. The UK government has awarded almost £7 million in grant funding to support heat network development studies within 91 local authorities in the coming year. The longer-term ambition is new schemes to be joined and expanded to form a new generation of city-wide networks.

The redevelopment of the historic Greenwich Power station on the River Thames is just part of wider moves to see the UK join other European countries in the widespread use of high efficiency, low carbon district energy systems.