Solihull Town Centre Energy Network

Exciting plans are being progressed to deliver affordable low carbon energy to the town centre. The Solihull Town Centre Energy Network will distribute low carbon heat and power from a single energy centre directly into town centre buildings.

The energy centre will provide a range of renewable and low carbon energy solutions including Air Source Heat Pumps and gas Combined Heat and Power. The proposed energy network will be able to provide heat and power to public and private sector customers, including Council owned buildings, education campuses and commercial offices.

The project aims to deliver carbon savings in support of Solihull Council’s ambitious climate change commitments by reducing the borough’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the amount of renewable and low carbon energy used to heat and power buildings.

In Solihull 56% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy we use in our buildings. This scheme will significantly reduce building energy emissions and pave the way for additional building connections in the town centre, helping Solihull in its drive towards Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2041.

Energy Centre 

Work is currently being undertaken to submit a planning application for the proposed  Energy Centre design in late February 2021.

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Solihull Council is developing an energy network to help bring affordable, low carbon heating to town centre buildings. The network could provide heat and power to many public and private sector customers including Council owned buildings, education campuses and commercial offices.

(Also known as ‘district energy network’ or ‘heat network’)

An energy network is a system for distributing low carbon heat and electricity. Some networks also provide cooling.  Energy is generated from a centralised location and is distributed via underground pipes and wires to supply key public, community and private sector buildings. These schemes can deliver carbon savings and help to reduce fuel bills.

In October 2019, Solihull Council issued a climate declaration and set the ambition of achieving net zero emissions for the Borough by 2041, this has been embedded in the local plan with the Council Plan priority of “Actioning our Climate Declaration” and the “Key things to do by 2025” of “Reduce Solihull’s net carbon emissions”. Solihull is committed to supporting WMCA’s decarbonisation targets.

In February, we will be asking the people and businesses in Solihull to get involved in the development of our Net Zero Action Plan, this identify the action we can all take to ensure that Solihull can make this transition to net zero.

In Solihull 56% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy we use in our buildings, the heat network will help us reduce this. We know that reducing our Borough greenhouse gas emissions will require a significant amount of innovation and the town centre energy network will play a significant part.

Developing and testing the opportunity for an energy network takes time and at each stage, the Council must objectively consider whether the project is still viable.  The project team have now completed Feasibility and Detailed Project Development (DPD) stages.  DPD resulted in an Outline Business Case which was considered by the Council together with our funding partners and resulted in an approval to develop the Full Business Case.  In order to develop the Full Business Case, the project team are progressing the design and planning application for the energy centre, developing and seeking agreement for Heads of Terms with the potential phase 1 customers and commencing procurement for a Contractor to construct and operate the energy network. 

Funding for the project prior to this stage came from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Heat Network Delivery Unit (HNDU) and the West Midlands Combined Authority.  This phase of the project is funded again by West Midlands Combined Authority but also by the Heat Network Investment Project (HNIP).  The project has also been awarded funding from HNIP towards to construction of the network subject to the Full Business Case submission. You can read the release here

Initially, for phase 1, the energy network will connect Council owned buildings, education campuses and commercial offices; this will provide affordable low carbon energy to all these buildings.  It is intended that future phases will then connect other buildings in the Town Centre and also link planned commercial developments.  Initially there will be no residential connections; however this will continue to be planned for in future phases.

During the feasibility stage, a number of sites were considered for the energy centre.  Following extensive consideration, the land which is adjacent to Tudor Grange Leisure Centre has been identified as the preferred location.  The location of the energy centre is critical to a successful energy network since it needs to be as close to all potential customers whilst also minimising the length of pipework required to connect each building and being large enough to house all the equipment needed.  We also recognise that this is a significant opportunity to offer educational opportunities and therefore the proximity to the College and University Centre and our schools is beneficial. 

The principal of this network is that it is uses as much renewable or low carbon energy as possible.  The renewable energy source in our network is air. All air above absolute zero contains energy in the form of heat. Mounted on the roof of the energy centre will be a number of evaporator units, these draw air into the units and this air will heat a refrigerant (a liquid with a very low boiling point). The refrigerant is then passed through to a series of heat pumps which transfer the heat to a water circuit. This water circuit is also heated up by gas CHP and, when needed, gas boilers. The hot water is then distributed, under pressure, through a series of pipes in the ground from the energy centre through to each building on the network.  Within each building’s plant room, there will be one or more plate heat exchangers which will exchange the heat from the district heat network to the building’s heating systems such as radiators or air handling units.

In the previous stage of the project, we constructed a test borehole.  This was to prove or disprove whether ground source heat could be utilised.  The test borehole investigated what groundwater flows could be available from the water-bearing rock (aquifer) beneath Tudor Grange Park. The water in the aquifer is the same temperature all year round and it was thought that this could provide heat to the network.  Unfortunately, the aquifer was much deeper than geological records suggested and the solution needed to be non-consumptive i.e. any water extracted would also need to be recharged back into the ground.  So, whilst there was sufficient water at a good temperature, the rate at which the water could be absorbed back into the ground was too low and therefore it would have meant that far more boreholes would have needed to be constructed and at much deeper than originally estimated, therefore this was proven to be financially non-viable.  Fortunately, we had also been investigating the use of air source heat pumps as an alternative.

Subject to the outcome of the community consultation for the energy centre, it is anticipated that a planning application will be submitted by the end of February 2021. Subject to successful determination of the planning application and the award of contract to a suitable Contractor it is anticipated that construction works will commence in December 2021 and that it will take just over 12 months to construct both the energy centre and the network.  

Initially, the phase 1 network will connect Council buildings within the town centre, a number of education campuses and commercial business on Homer Road.  As part of this phase of the project, we are working with the proposed customers to agree commercial terms so we cannot list the customers yet.