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As new funding for district heating and cooling opens, James Chaplen looks at the benefits of 5th generation heat networks

The first round of the government’s new £288m funding for low carbon district heating and cooling schemes is now officially open.

The 3-year Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF), which opened for applications in March, is targeted at supporting work to construct lower carbon systems. It will specifically support schemes that make use of waste or renewable energy.

The GHNF replaces the previous Heat Network Investment Project (HNIP), and provides grants aimed at incentivising new 5th generation heat networks.

In addition, the scheme targets the retrofitting or expansion of existing heat networks that can be upgraded to cut carbon emissions from buildings.

The Climate Change Committee believes that by 2050, heat networks could supply 42% of the heat and hot water in UK buildings, second only to its 52% target for singular heat pumps.

And this is where 5th generation heat networks offer so much potential.

James Chaplen James Chaplen Senior Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric

Using otherwise wasted heat

This first funding application round will remain open until 27 May this year. Two additional rounds are then expected to open for applications over the course of 2022, to support the government’s aim of providing a clear focus on lower carbon sources of energy.

This will be followed by quarterly rounds until the scheme closes in 2025.

The £288m total over the next 3 years will be available to public, private or non-profit organisations and aims to support the creation of heat networks focused on using waste energy to provide low carbon thermal comfort for households and businesses. Individuals, households and sole traders cannot apply.

The Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will manage the first application round, with subsequent rounds being managed by a delivery partner.

Accelerating deployment

In guidance to applicants, BEIS states: “The GHNF is a core element of our Heat Network Transformation Programme that aims to create the market conditions to accelerate deployment of reliable, decarbonised heating and cooling networks through to 2050.

Through a set of closely related Heat Network projects we aim to create the market conditions for accelerated delivery of low carbon heating and cooling through heat networks, which are vital to achieving a clean, cost effective and just transition to net-zero and to delivering a wide variety of benefits to the environment, consumers, and the economy.

They can utilise otherwise wasted energy, provide grid balancing services with increased volume of intermittent renewables on the grid and additional electricity demand through Electric Vehicles and heat pumps in buildings, offering a low carbon supply of heat at competitive prices to households and businesses alike.

Large scale investment is essential to the development of this market and we are committed to ensuring that projects of the highest quality come forward.”

Different types of heat

In terms of the specific types of work that will be funded via the Green Network Fund, the government said it would provide assistance for accessing heat sources.

This would include capturing waste heat from industrial processes as well as waste and wastewater, or geothermal power.

It was announced in January that some £250m has been invested in supporting heat network adoption via the previous HNIP scheme. 

The new GHNF is now the primary lower carbon incentive aimed at matching the government’s ambition of decarbonising homes and buildings over the next two decades.

And this is where 5th generation heat networks offer so much potential.

Use what’s already there

With 5th generation heat networks, technology already exists to capitalise on the low temperature heat in the network.

Packaged ‘plug & play’ heat pump solutions are available right now to link into a heat network and upgrade low temperature heat into usable heating and hot water for apartments – bringing renewable, sustainable heating to even more people and even more situations.

In addition to acting as a heat store, these low temperature heat networks can also act as a heat sink, meaning that systems that need to add heat to the network to allow for cooling such as air conditioning systems, can help offset those systems taking heat out of the network.

This offers the real-world potential of a much more balanced and sustainable society, where the heat produced from cooling an IT Server room or gym, is used to deliver hot water and heating for other parts of the building or community.

These technologies already exist and don’t require massive infrastructure investment that other applicants to the GHNF may need.

It’s time to start using what is already available.

James Chaplen is Senior Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric