UK renewable heat network demo gets R&D funding

A planned community-wide solar thermal district heating demonstration scheme, a first for the UK, has been awarded a government research grant to carry out a feasibility study.

To be funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the project is based at E.ON’s energy centre in Cranbrook to the east of Exeter and aims to demonstrate how solar thermal panels and heat pumps can replace or work alongside an existing gas-fired district heating system. The existing installation provides a central source of heat and hot water for homes in Cranbrook and the nearby Skypark industrial park (pictured).  

If successful the research, in conjunction with the University of Exeter, will lead to the construction of a roughly 2000 square metre ground-mounted solar thermal array on land next to the energy centre, as well as a high temperature (>80°C) heat pump and testing of the system over a range of live operational scenarios. This installation will supply 3500 new homes in Cranbrook as well as the Skypark and will be equipped with dedicated hot water thermal storage tank.

Jeremy Bungey, Head of Community Energy at E.ON, said: ‘District heating schemes such as Cranbrook are lower carbon by their very design, and we often see carbon savings of around a quarter compared to traditional home heating such as gas boilers. By migrating the energy source from gas-fired combined heat and power plants to renewable energy sources we believe we could see a further significant reduction in carbon emissions and still maintain secure and reliable supplies to our customers.

‘This is a demonstration project at this stage but if it proves successful, the integrated technology we are pioneering here could be replicated in existing and new district heating schemes right across the country and would make a significant contribution to easing the impact on the environment which comes from domestic heating.’

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