Creating the 2030 vision for heat networks in the U.K

Across the U.K. local authorities are grappling with the challenge of decarbonising the heat used in their cities and dense urban environments by 2030. To meet this target, heat network deployment must be rapid and as cost-effective as possible. With the right network design software, these targets can be achieved.

Deploying district heat networking has been identified by authorities across the U.K as one of the key factors in meeting carbon neutral targets. If we were to deploy a heat network in the city centre of Glasgow, we can replace 140GWh of fossil fuel heating every year, which will displace 31.5 kilo tonnes of CO2, resulting in zero-carbon heat for 60 years. The Heat Vision 2030 project has estimated that this would cost around £250 million to make happen.

Other examples that have crossed our desk recently include Chelmsford, Medway, Worthing, Solihull, Barking, and Bridgend. You can add any large city in the country to the list and you will find that hundreds of millions of pounds are being assigned to developing heat networks.

Interestingly though, the size and scale of these heat networks do not really match up with the stated goals. 90% of heat networks being funded today in the U.K. have a total CapEx of less than £20 million and there is perhaps a handful with budgets that approach £100 million. With these budget limitations, it is all the more important that the design phase is as accurate as possible so that deployments stay within the allocated budget.

The planning and design phase not only has to consider the needs of today but also be ready for the needs of the future.

The good thing is that heat networks if planned correctly, can be expanded. A project that focuses on 50 public buildings today can be designed and developed to incorporate thousands of buildings of all kinds over the course of time. With careful planning, the whole of Glasgow City center could be heated by a low carbon heat network within 10 or 15 years.

But how can we plan for a zero-carbon heat network? We need to begin by imagining them. We need to visualise and play with the size of the prize. We need to challenge our preconceptions and be curious about the possibilities. We need to explore and we need to be ambitious.

We also need to be realistic. We need to start incorporating data and information to start building models so we can understand the possibilities that are available to us. We need to start developing scenarios that we can share and that can be used as a platform for collaboration.

This is where network design software, such as Comsof Heat, comes in.

Comsof Heat is a heat network mapping tool that follows the Heat Network Development Unit (HNDU) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) design and development process. Comsof Heat is applicable from the heat mapping and maser planning stage through to detailed project development.

Comsof works at any scale from dozens to thousands of buildings and it does this based on real data. The results are multiple realistic scenarios that can be calculated and visualised in a workshop setting. These scenarios can be compared against different feasibility, planning, and finance criteria at the same time.

The software can create these scenarios in a short amount of time, and with more accuracy, than a team of designers manually designing the network. The software requires fewer man-hours to provide more detailed scenarios that are easier to scrutinise and improve.

As such Development, Technical and Executive teams can collaborate on developing scenarios and compare different, detailed energy strategies.

Change can happen and budgets can be met if the planning is solid. With software such as Comsof Heat the planning and design stages for heat network deployment can be rapid and as cost-effective as possible, so we can meet our 2030 target.

Author Bio

Ben Carter is an expert in city-wide district heating solutions, energy strategy & market development, with specialist knowledge of heat networks, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.