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A low carbon heating project led by E.ON, working with technology providers SK Solar and Star Renewable Energy and the University of Exeter, has been awarded the second tranche of a government research grant to create an innovative energy system supplying one of the country’s largest district heating systems with low carbon heat directly from sunshine.
The project, one of nine innovation projects sharing the second stage, £6m funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), will design and build an innovative large-scale solar thermal and heat pump system that will supply E.ON's community energy centre in Cranbrook to the east of Exeter.
After initial feasibility studies the project is now in advance planning stages and hopes to start installing technology in late summer. The aim is to improve the performance of heat networks, demonstrating how the combined technologies can replace or work alongside the existing combined heat and power (CHP) district heating scheme to provide lower cost and significantly lower carbon heating and hot water.
The existing Cranbrook network takes a central source of heat from the CHP energy centre through a network of super-insulated underground pipes to homes in the village and the nearby Skypark commercial complex. Eventually the network will connect to more than 3,500 new homes in Cranbrook as well as 1.4 million ft2 of industrial space at Skypark.
The demonstrator project will see the installation of approximately 2,000m2 solar thermal array on land near to the energy centre as well as a high temperature (>80˚C) heat pump.
The Cranbrook energy centre is already fitted with rooftop solar PV panels and the project will seek to incorporate the electricity generated by those panels and the CHP to power the heat pump, providing another low or zero carbon energy source to replace mains power.
The ground-mounted panels will collect solar heat to supply the heat pump, which will increase the water temperature ready for use in the heating system. Hot water that is not needed immediately can be stored in a dedicated thermal storage tank, which will be installed alongside existing equipment attached to the district heating system.
A critical challenge with renewable energy sources such as solar or wind is that supply does not always match demand. This demonstration project will harness the solar thermal energy in the daytime and store it before boosting to 80˚C overnight, using off peak electricity for release onto the network at early morning peak demand.
Tim Rook, head of design for community energy at E.ON, said: “It is fantastic to see the Government supporting innovative engineering that has the potential to change the low carbon heat landscape so dramatically. By combining these technologies and an advanced control system to select and manage multiple energy sources we have the potential to create a viable heat source that is truly renewable and independent of a fuel source.
“In years to come the integrated technology we are pioneering here could be replicated in existing and new-build district heating schemes across the country and would make a significant contribution to easing the impact on the environment which comes from domestic heating."
Tony Norton, director for energy and the environment at the University of Exeter said: “We’re delighted this innovative research project is progressing to implementation and are looking forward to working with partners in the project which will utilise the Centre for Energy and Environment’s measurement, monitoring and data analysis expertise.”
Cllr Andrew Moulding, deputy leader of East Devon District Council and cabinet member for strategic development and partnerships, added: “This is a groundbreaking project which will be of enormous benefit to our Cranbrook residents and businesses at Skypark and the Government award is further recognition that the new town is leading the way in how we use renewable energy.
“It’s also encouraging to see that the hard work we have all put in towards working together is paying dividends and leading to such innovative technology.”
The Heat Networks Demonstration SBRI competition was created by DECC to stimulate innovation that will help address cost and performance efficiency challenges related to heat networks, supporting the growth of low carbon heat networks across the country as well as providing real world evidence on reducing costs and improving energy efficiencies.