Written evidence submitted by Mr Francis Mills (DHH0130)
Frank Mills Consulting Ltd
Terms of Reference - Decarbonising heat in homes inquiry
What has been the impact of past and current policies for low carbon heat, and what lessons can be learnt, including examples from devolved administrations and international comparators?
Past and current policies have not supported or encouraged low carbon heating and in some cases has caused viable schemes to be cancelled.
The heading of this consultation suggests that heating houses is a specific and separate issue to heating generally. Is there a cultural problem at government which tends to prohibit holistic thinking which is essential for successful decarbonised heating? District heating must be considered as a utility and must serve whole communities.
If a system serves a wider ‘community’ we can share heat as a resource – for example taking in waste heat from anyone who has spare heat – such as a hospital energy centre or a data centre – and supplying that heat to any users who want to purchase it. Such a system must have thermal storage in the system.
It is worth noting that the UK is one of the few countries in the world that throws away all the waste heat from its thermal power stations. Other countries use it. Some use a lot of it and even store it. Heat is a precious commodity but UK does not see that. The amount of heat thrown away annually is more than needed to heat every building in Britain.
In practice we cannot use the waste heat because we have no heat networks to supply the heat to users. Connections to thermal energy power plants could be started and developed – a top down approach - but this is not as cost effective as bottom up where we start with local schemes and join them up until we have large heating demands. A local development might want 2 MW to 10 MW. A small town might need 100MW. Power stations are wasting GWs.
But getting local schemes installed has proven difficult. There are many examples of how available waste heat has been ignored and ‘thrown away; even though it could be easily used to heat buildings including homes.
I undertook the Pilkington Glass energy study, which is a good example of what goes wrong when policies interfere with good engineering practices and an economic opportunity.
Pilkingtons have/had 3 separate float glass plants which are located in St Helens - all quite close to the town centre and to large housing estates and each float glass plant needed 5MW of electricity 24 hours per day 365 days per year. They found purchased electricity costs rising and asked me to undertake an energy study.
I studied the sites and the energy profiles and noted that if Pilkington’s could generate their own power they would more than halve energy costs. Not only that but on site generation of power at each of the 3 sites would provide over 5 MW waste heat from each site which could serve the town of St Helens using a DH network. This would restore Pilkington’s reputation as the heart of the community and especially if they could provide low affordable cost heat to this deprived area.
Whilst this was progressing, the Energy manager at the Liverpool City Region LEP was informed – because BEIS were promoting their District heat programme, although this project received no support toward my study. He tried to take over this project and wanted to include the scheme into a list of potential energy projects for the region. This created confusion, uncertainty and lack of confidence. He did include onto a schedule of potential schemes but low priority and the scheme fizzled out. Pilkingtons were lead into thinking they would get a grant when they did not need one anyway and subsequently gave up.
Similarly , the project to construct a sea wall across the Mersey to prevent future flooding and produce tidal power energy which would have included zero carbon heating from the electricity, ground to a halt once the energy manger at the LEP got involved – despite being extremely profitable as a venture. A tidal barrage at the mouth of the Mersey would protect every community along the river as far as Manchester from sea flooding and create 10% of the power needed for the region as zero carbon electricity.
Across the UK there are many examples of very profitable long term low carbon energy schemes, Sadly the involvement of local government seems to stall and often kill them off. Whilst local government should be trying to encourage and unite communities they seem to do the opposite.
There are some good examples where a developer has created a low and zero carbon scheme because it made good economic sense and was the best solution. Not all developers are able to move ahead on their own but one that did was Peel at their Media City development Salford, where they have constructed and operate a district heat network now. Media City was the first BREEAM Communities development and achieved the best category of Excellent.
One major point to note is that successful energy schemes must supply communities – not just housing. The mix is extremely important in order to optimise operational loads.
Mixed use developments must be supported and encouraged. That is why the current Planning system which likes to ‘see’ developments in a predestined category destroys net zero schemes.
In many parts of the country and particularly the north, there is a preconception that each development must stand alone and cannot be part of a mixed use scheme. This creates a culture whereby individual developers do their own thing and tend to resort to traditional utility supplies.
Local Planning does not seem to know any better either.
For example there are many new housing developments happening in Lancashire now - ranging from say 50 houses to 500 houses – and they are having gas supplies installed. This is hard to understand when shared district heating would be better for the occupants and when UK gas has less than 2 years capacity left. How will these ‘new’ houses heat themselves when gas runs out and how can they ever be net zero carbon.
What key policies, priorities and timelines should be included in the Government’s forthcoming ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ to ensure that the UK is on track to deliver Net Zero? What are the most urgent decisions and actions that need to be taken over the course of this Parliament (by 2024)?
Planning must encourage district heat networks and support those who want them. Local authorities must encourage community ownership and assist in setting up community ESCOs.
All developments must follow the RAE report on ‘Sustainable Living Places’ which was supported by MHCLG and Planning Authority and should use BREEAM Communities to establish low carbon district heat networks.
Heat networks should be allowed and encouraged to connect any existing or future waste heat generation into their network.
Heat storage should be included to allow seasonal storage.
Which technologies are the most viable to deliver the decarbonisation of heating, and what would be the most appropriate mix of technologies across the UK?
District heat networks supplied from existing energy generation including Hospital energy centres, data centres and such like.
Data centre operators should be encouraged to sell waste heat to nearby care homes and hotels.
Connections to thermal energy power plants must be started and developed. The UK is one of the few countries in the world that throws away all waste heat from power stations. Oher countries use it. The amount of heat thrown away annually is more than needed to heat every building in Britain. But it cannot because we have no heat networks to supply is heat to users.
What are the barriers to scaling up low carbon heating technologies? What is needed to overcome these barriers?
Confusion and perhaps some scepticism amongst local authorities and LEPs.
As an engineer I cannot understand why BEIS has spent so much money on District heat studies which have not progressed and ignored obvious successful opportunities.
I would like to know how many of the BEIS funded district heat studies have progressed to a real project.
I carried out and energy study for Bridlington and showed how to develop from a small heat network to eventually cover the whole town – but the Local Authority struggled to understand the concept.
I also carried out a study for Watford – their health a campus development which is a large scale development between the hospital and the town centre. I showed how this project could lead to a district heat network across the whole of Watford. But they refused to follow my advice. I do not know why.
How can the costs of decarbonising heat be distributed fairly across consumers, taxpayers, business and government, taking account of the fuel poor and communities affected by the transition? What is the impact of the existing distribution of environmental levies across electricity, gas and fuel bills on drivers for switching to low carbon heating, and should this distribution be reviewed?
The most obvious answer is to stop wasting so much heat. It seems almost immoral.
Most low carbon heating schemes appear to be cost effective. The problem is the confusion around approvals, support for pipe laying activities and so forth.
What incentives and regulatory measures should be employed to encourage and ensure households take up low carbon heat, and how will these need to vary for different household types?
Allow ESCO to charge a fair price for heat supplied ( based on current costs ) and a fair service charge. House holders will not have boilers to service and replace and should be charged a similar cost – say £1000 per year.
Assist ESCOs with pipe installation by organising co-ordinated utilities installations and upgrades.
What action is required to ensure that households are engaged, informed, supported and protected during the transition to low carbon heat, including measures to minimise disruption in homes and to maintain consumer choice?
Look at successful schemes to identify key issues.
The Eldonians had a very good approach to their scheme in Liverpool and would have completed by now if the LEP had not interfered. They could se the benefits of a community owned and operated DH energy scheme and could even see how it could be a means of regenerating a run down area.
In my report back in 2011 I stated that the purpose of the report was to describe the range of low and zero carbon energy systems considered and to identify those which provide practical and cost effective long term, sustainable solutions, and which also support the overarching policies to regenerate Liverpool City.
The report recognised that the transition from the current fossil fuel based economy to the low and zero carbon economy will take time and must be carried out in phases due to costs and practical issues, and the resulting conclusions are therefore based around a future proofed, phased strategy.
Sadly the project struggled once the LEP got involved and the key objectives became confused with personal ambitions.
Where should responsibility lie for the governance, coordination and delivery of low carbon heating? What will these organisations need in order to deliver such responsibilities?
Community lead and owned ESCOs should govern, coordinate and deliver low carbon heating. They should have the necessary support form the Local authorities where they are installing and running systems.