The annual District Heating conference in London saw a focus on the barriers to the success of heat networks, one of which has been identified as the lack of regulation in the sector.
Welcoming revised proposals for the country’s first heat customers protection scheme Dr Tim Rotheray, Director of the UK’s Combined Heat and Power Association told delegates from local authorities, investment firms, and heat network suppliers that while there was recognition of the work done on the policy side of the market, the industry ‘must ensure the other sides of the market are working properly.”
Rotheray highlighted the importance of the scheme in terms of reputation and understanding perceived risk associated with a lack of regulation.
Speaking about the risk associated with build, he said, “there are reports of district heating builds being affected by over-heating, of designs not being right, of modelling not being translated into operational reality.”
The revised proposals to the heat customer protection scheme ensure thousands more householders and businesses will be able to join.
Older district heating schemes will now be included, as well as both metered and unmetered customers.
The revised proposals will see the scheme deliver clear pricing information for heat customers to allow easy comparisons. In addition, the scheme will guarantee heat security standards and establish an independent service for customers settling disputes.
Dr. Rotheray added, “District heating has the potential to grow tenfold by 2030, reducing CO2 emissions, lowering energy bills and spurring hundreds of millions of pounds of private sector investment.
“At a time when our traditional energy companies are facing increasing scrutiny, the Independent Heat Customer Protection Scheme’s revised proposals will help build necessary trust and peace of mind between heat network suppliers and their customers, providing a sturdy foundation for the UK’s maturing district heat industry.
“We look forward to working with the independent steering committee to get this scheme up and running over the following months”.
Among provisions will be penalties for projects that fail to comply with set standards.
The event, entitled ‘Re-thinking district heating -Removing the barriers for successful projects’, also saw other speakers highlighting other present and potential barriers impeding the industry from reaching its potential.
In her presentation, ‘Making district heating investable’ : Paula Kirk, Associate Director Arup (pictured right) delivered a comprehensive breakdown (through a Project Delivery Map) of all of the necessary processes that needed to be addressed to get a project off the ground.
She emphasised that there needs to be a clear message of what the project is trying to achieve from the outset, as “there is not a one size fit all, not one answer”.
Among the questions required to provide that clarity are: who is investing, who owns and who benefits, whether it is technically or commercially viable and how long does the customer sign up for. She added that political support is essential.
“The larger the scheme is the better, in terms of profitability and return of investment.
It’s important that it is phased but it doesn’t sit well with politics to support a 40-year investment in phases. It is important to make it palatable, getting that buy in from politicians is fundamental. Without it it’s very challenging.”
The sharing of best practice was another theme explored at the event with Stephen Brooks, Investment Director at DECC’s Heat Network Delivery Unit, announcing the setting up of a Huddle site for the purposes of sharing documentation on heat networks among local authorities.
Finally Huw Blackwell, Islington Council decentralised energy project officer explained the obstacles to success from a local authority perspective. Islington completed its Bunhill 1 energy centre in 2012.
To illustrate one such pitfall, he explained the problems associated with heat loads, with networks often unnecessarily being setup to deal with peak loads.
“When you are running a network you very rarely have peak loads – for example just for a week this winter. You must focus on operating efficiently for the vast quantity of year. Often (networks) are not efficient at part loads, but are fine for peak loads. It is quite rare to have a minimal efficiency system that you must achieve – that’s a failure from designers and failings within contracts
“We need to be sharing that experience with other housing authorities. To get around these barriers we need to share.”