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Manchester’s heat networks blaze the trail


Manchester is leading the way among England’s core cities – the eight major conurbations outside London and the South East – as a pioneer for a new heat strategy launched by The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), which includes a commitment to energy networks.

An area dubbed the Civic Quarter, which takes in six key buildings - the Town Hall and Extension, Central Reference Library, Midland Hotel, Manchester Central and the new offices at 1 St Peter’s Square - will be linked to the city’s first heat network. There will also be two further pilots in both Stockport and Oldham town centres.

Heat networks generate heat at a central  location, then pipe it to buildings and homes. To avoid unnecessary disruption, the first phase of work is being carried out at the same time as the current redevelopment of St Peter’s Square, and the construction of the second city tram crossing.

The network is being introduced partly to help the city region meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets - 48% by 2020 - but that’s only part of the thinking behind the scheme, explains Jonny Sadler, environmental strategy manager at Manchester City Council.

Because the network will be powered by natural gas, a fossil fuel, the savings on C02 will initially be minimal, he says. However, the important factor is that the pipes are in the ground and that means there is: “the opportunity to do some significant long-term carbon savings… in the next phase we might be able to put biomass CHP on the end, or we might connect it to a deep, geothermal bore hole or whatever else technology comes up with in the next 15-20 years,” says Sadler.

He also believes that the heat network will ensure that major commercial developments in the city continue to be built on a sustainable basis. “It will attract investment from various players who want their buildings to be on the end of a low carbon heat network,” he says. “We know that there is a desire among developers to connect to these kind of things.”

A case in point is the 1 St Peter’s Square development, where developers Argent have already signed up to be on the network.

But as well as environmental and economic benefits, there is also an important social aspect to the network, says Sadler, with plans to link up Oldham’s existing social housing network to a new city centre one as a way of beating fuel poverty.

Ultimately, he says, the network will also spread across Manchester. “The idea is that you develop a number of clusters and over time they expand and develop, and then they start to encroach on each other and you end up with a single, integrated network which, on its way, will have picked up areas of fuel poverty, too.”

The network proved to be a key discussion point among visiting members of the pan-European Regions for Green Growth team, who visited Greater Manchester  earlier this month. Delegates were impressed both by the commitment from local authorities to energy savings and renewable energy and the ambitious targets for the region, which showed both clear strategy and  long and short term objectives.