In our 4 Questions interview…
This month, in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), we spoke to Tanja Groth, Director of Urban Resilience at Sweco. Sweco are avid users of the Heat Networks Planning Database. In this interview Tanja describes how the database has supported Sweco’s work in tracking the shift towards Heat Networks, and how it has helped them to refine their approach and develop successful partnerships.
Can you describe Sweco and your role within the company?
Sweco is a leading architecture and engineering consultancy in Europe, with over 18,000 employees and headquartered in Sweden. There are about 1,400 of us in the UK and Ireland, spread across 15 offices. My colleagues and I have supported UK & Irish heat network development for over a decade.
As Director of Urban Resilience, I am the energy network lead for UK and Ireland and as an economist I get involved in lots of lovely cashflow and social value modelling on the impact thermal networks play in solving our climate emergency challenge, fuel poverty and a just energy transition and wider impacts including contributing to skills and employment and climate adaptation measures. I am also a Non-Exec Director on the board of Energetik, one of the larger heat networks operating in the UK and involved with various Heat Network Industry Council working groups/sub-working groups.
What are heat networks and what is Sweco’s role in this space?
Heat networks – or thermal networks where both heating and cooling are involved – are a proven solution to providing space heating/cooling and hot water for residential, commercial and industrial use. For more than a century, heat networks have provided heating and steam to buildings by sharing heated water or steam in pipes. Most homes and buildings in the UK use waterborne systems internally combined with gas boilers, with gas combusted to heat water circulated in radiators and internal pipework. Heat networks connect this internal system with external pipework located under our roads, fuelled by large scale sources of heating recoverable from any heat source. This flexibility allows for identification of both the lowest cost heat source and the lowest carbon source of heat.
At Sweco, we have a dedicated multidisciplinary team working to design and deliver the most cost and carbon effective heat networks for our clients, and support policy design, business model development and due diligence activities in the global energy network space.
How has the Heat Networks Planning Database (HNPD) supported your work?
On a personal level working in the economics/engineering space in this sector, it is always fantastic to receive access to new, accurate data. More to the point the HNPD is allowing us to track the shift in trends, e.g. the clear move from gas-fired central heating networks to electricity-led schemes, in addition to the growth, ownership and scale trends from what is an emerging market in the UK. This helps both in terms of understanding and refining our design approach, on how to unlock new funding streams to support further sector development and how to develop successful partnerships that can help the sector evolve further.
What does the future of the UK heat network sector look like and how does the HNPD support it?
One clear trend is that the sector will be growing exponentially to meet our climate emergency goals for 2050! Seriously though, while the CCC estimates heat networks may supply up to 20% of UK’s heating demand by 2050 I think that is a crazy lowball figure when we look at what the potential could be. Regardless of whether we are going on the electrification pathway or the hydrogen pathway, thermal networks are seriously undervalued as a highly cost-effective flexibility and balancing contributor to the UK energy system.
We are banking on integrating huge amounts of wind (offshore and onshore) into our system alongside other intermittent and baseload renewables but no sector has the same potential for low cost storage (peaking storage as hot water tanks, interseasonal storage integrating abandoned minewater etc) and there is no better way to use waste heat than in a thermal energy network. A good example would be the work happening currently in the Port of Rotterdam looking to capture waste heat from the Green Hydrogen production process to provide up to 1 million homes with heating. The UK is – or should be – a market leader in systems integration and I’m a bit worried if we are underselling the potential of thermal networks in providing balancing/flexibility/waste heat recovery services in the UK energy system.
Statistics and data like what is collated and released by the HNPD allows consultants like me to summarise and visualise the key trends and possibilities, raising wider awareness and helping us to engage with stakeholders.
Access the Heat Networks Planning Database
Interested in accessing the latest edition of the Heat Networks Planning Database?
And, if you want to see the projects visualised on a fully-interactive Smart Map, created by Barbour ABI for this project, then simply click below.