Igniting district heating in the UK

Green transition 9 May 2017 Crispin Matson

A new EUR 370-million government scheme will boost energy efficiency in UK homes and businesses. The clients need planning expertise from the micro to macro levels.

8 min

Implementation of district heating in the UK was slow for years, but that has all changed. The government has recently decided to invest GBP 320 million (around EUR 370 million) over the next five years in schemes that will supply low-carbon heat to keep homes and businesses warm nationwide.

The press release from The Department of Energy and Climate Change specifically mentioned that the inspiration for this came from the Nordics:

“Dubbed ‘central heating for cities’, heat networks are already used widely across Scandinavian cities to keep homes warm in winter. And with the potential to reduce heating costs by more than 30% for some households, this investment is exciting news for the country’s towns and cities,” the department wrote in June, 2016.

This reference gives Ramboll a unique selling point.

“We certainly leverage our Danish heritage and long-term knowledge of district heating,” explains Crispin Matson, head of Ramboll’s energy systems department in the UK.

The web around Wembley

He adds that the clients are seeking planning expertise not only on an overall macro level but also on the micro level:

“We have unique offerings, for example, detailed design of the pipework, including the stress calculations and the use of heat pumps utilising industrial waste heat sources. The latter is more carbon efficient than the usual source of heat for district energy schemes in the UK – from combined heat and power plants (CHP),” says Crispin Matson.

At the same time, planning must bind the strategic level (the government’s goal) and the engineering details (the technical potential) together. Ramboll is already planning district heating around Wembley Stadium (photo), where more than 5,000 homes are being connected to the network – one of the biggest projects in the country since the London 2012 Olympics.

Technical Manager Johan Liebenberg from the development and investment company Quintain says that he is “very happy to bring Danish district heating expertise to Wembley Park”.

“In particular, Ramboll’s expertise and experience in district heating pipework design detail has been essential in coordinating this service through the complex web of utilities that surround the National Stadium,” Johan Liebenberg says.

Going underground

Another big assignment has been the feasibility study and the design and network needed to connect over 15,000 homes on the Greenwich Peninsula in East London – a network that will eventually save over 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. 

In addition, in a pioneering project from next year Ramboll will be capturing the waste heat from a Northern Line Underground shaft in Islington, using heat pumps to “upgrade” the heat from 18-28 degrees Celsius to approximately 80 degrees – enabling another 500 homes to be connected to this central London district heating system. 

A report commissioned by the Greater London Authorities has found that enough heat is wasted in London to meet 70% of the city’s heating needs. London is inherently the place with the biggest potential in the UK, and the mayor has included district heating in a lot of planning schemes. But there are also projects in other big cities. Ramboll has, for example, built a whole new network in the centre of Sheffield. 

The UK government has been cutting down on other plans and projects that lower carbon, but has scaled up the district heating schemes, not least because of their cost-effectiveness. The current plan is to increase the percentage of buildings connected to district heating from two to 18-20 before 2030.

On the rise in Germany too

According to the industry organisation Euroheat & Power, Germany, together with Poland, is the biggest market for district heating and cooling in the European Union in terms of absolute numbers. Despite the ongoing decline in heating demand that has resulted from thermal insulation measures, the replacement of old buildings and demographic changes, the district heating share within the overall heat market remains stable due to the growth of existing and development of new networks. 

Thus, interest in new and improved schemes is also rising in Germany, and Ramboll is among the consultancy firms benefiting from this trend. The Danish company has had several mid- and large-sized planning projects in places like Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg (photo), Dortmund and Bremen – the latter based on a digital model of the city – and has just finished a big project in Dusseldorf. 

The main focus of the Dusseldorf project was on the planning and hydraulic investigation of a 17-km heat transmission line across major parts of the city – designed to combine waste heat sources, generating plants and supply areas. Once built, it will make district heat supply in Dusseldorf greener and more efficient. 

“In Germany it is very important to keep the deadlines, and Danish experience and inspiration are also regarded as a competitive advantage in this area,” says Eckhard Ritterbach, Business Development Director, Ramboll Energy.


Written by Michael Rothenborg.