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Down to earth energy move a bid to cut carbon-fuelled heat; Heat trapped in the ground is being targeted as a resource for use by North East homes and businesses, as PETER MCCUSKER reports.


WORK on some 200 bore holes - drilled down to depths of 150m - next to four Gateshead tower blocks will begin in the next few months.

They will house a network of pipes to power ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) supplying over 300 homes.

Meanwhile, Northumberland County Council is also in the process of installing GSHPs in three of the county's fire stations, and one North East energy company is in talks with housebuilders to trial GSHPs in newbuild homes.

Heat accounts for 45% of UK energy consumption and over 30% of carbon emissions, with UK customers spending well over PS30bn a year on energy for heating.

However, while major progress has been made cutting carbon emissions in the electricity sector - where 50% of power regularly comes from lowcarbon sources - progress is much slower with heating systems.

One of the North East's leading experts in low carbon heating systems is Prof Chris Underwood, chair of energy modelling for the built environment at Northumbria University.

He said: "The government is determined to cut our dependence on overseas gas and reduce carbon emissions from existing heat networks. As a result, it is supporting the rollout of ground source heat pumps.

"They may not be the cheapest way of supporting this transition but they will go on to play a major role in the domestic energy mix. We will see a significant growth in heat pumps in the coming years."

GSHP systems tap into heat absorbed at the earth's surface from solar energy, which at depths of six meters is between 10 and 16degC. This heat is different from geothermal energy which is trapped in the earth's crust and dates back to when the planet was formed.

The ground source heat is absorbed with the use of a fluid inside an underground pipe network which passes through a compressor to increase temperature.

Gateshead Council will deploy a PS6.8m GSHP network in Ripley, Willerby, Acomb and Bedale Courts in the Harlow Green area, cutting emissions and heating bills for residents. Each pair of tower blocks requires around 100 vertical bore holes, drilled to a depth of about 150m, covering an area of around one and a half football pitches.

As well as well as installing GSHPs, all homes will be installed with new central heating systems and radiators.

Newcastle company Future Energy is set to trial heat pumps as a feature of a smart energy system in five newbuild North East homes in coming months.

Northumberland County Council has begun work on the installation of three heat pumps at Prudhoe, Seahouses and Amble fire stations. The Prudhoe scheme is the most advanced, with five bore holes drilled to depths totalling 700m.

A council spokesperson said: "As a council, we consider a range of measures that will help us to reduce costs and make our buildings more energy efficient, as well as more environmentally friendly.

"We need reliable and affordable energy sources, and new technologies like ground source heat pumps can help us to achieve this."

The government subsidises GSHP development through its Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and wants the scheme to help it achieve its ambition of 12% of heating from renewable sources by 2020.

Since the launch of the RHI there have been 8,000 domestic installations and over 750 non-domestic installations, nationally.

Stuart Pocock, chief operating officer at the Renewable Energy Association, said: "Ground source heat pumps play a valuable role in decarbonising heat in homes and businesses. Heat pumps work best in well insulated buildings and are perfect for new-build properties." Virginia Graham, chief executive of Renewable Energy Consumer Code, said: "Ground source heat pumps are ideal for new-build, off-gas grid homes with a high level of insulation. It is important to ensure the heat pump you are installing is correctly sized for your property.

"It is also important to understand if it will be used just for just heat or for heat and hot water, as the specifications will change. Additionally, bear in mind that ground source heat pumps are very likely to result in increased electricity usage."

Schemes can be expensive, with bore holes costing around PS7,500 and the heating system slightly less at PS6,000, with Prof Underwood describing them as a "pensioner perk". "The most significant problem with them are the costs. We already have some eight million families in fuel poverty in this country and they will not be able to afford them.

"Heat pumps have greater potential in new-builds or as a combined system with an air-source heat pump, with both of these needing electricity to power them.

"A large-scale transition to a lowcarbon heating system will most likely involve a mix of technologies, including heat pumps, district heating schemes and the possible conversion of the gas grid to one run on a hybrid mix of hydrogen and gas," he said.

Ground source heat pumps are ideal for new-build, off-gas grid homesVirginia Graham
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 8, 2017
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