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

The pre-planning consultation period has now closed, thank you to everyone who has responded – see a summary of responses here 

Comments and questions raised during the consultation have informed further development of the FAQs below. 

Residents interested in the wider project can sign up to receive regular Stay Connected email bulletins. 

You can view the previous bulletins here.

FAQ's

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.

We are currently asking the residents and businesses of Solihull to get involved in the development of our Net Zero Action Plan. This identifies 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

In Solihull 56% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy we use in our buildings. We know that reducing our borough greenhouse gas emissions will require a significant amount of action and innovation. Heat networks will have an important role to play in reducing building heat emissions and we want to help lead this transition.

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.

The town centre energy network will be the first of its kind in Solihull but could pave the way for similar projects around the borough.  Look out for more information about the Net Zero Action Plan and ways in which you can reduce your own emissions.

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 network has been designed, and will be operated, to maximise the use of renewable and low carbon sources of heat. Heat will be generated using renewable and low carbon energy sources, with gas boilers providing top up and back up heat supply on very cold days.

Our Energy Centre will utilise Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP), a renewable energy technology which absorb heat from the air even in winter months. 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 Combined Heat and Power (CHP) engine and, when needed, gas boilers. The hot water is then distributed, under pressure, through a series of insulated 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. The Air Source Heat Pumps are operated using electricity generated by the gas combined heat and power (CHP) engine. A combined heat and power engine is a very efficient process that captures heat created in the generation of electricity.

Why are we not utilising solar photovoltaics (PV) at this location?

Low carbon electricity generation is part of the Energy Network via the use of a gas combined heat and power (CHP). The CHP electricity will be used to power the Air Source Heat Pumps at the Energy Centre and the remaining power will be distributed to customers using a private wire network. The use of photovoltaics (PV) or solar panels has been reviewed for the Energy Centre; however with the evaporator units being situated on the roof of the energy network, the additional possibility of installation of solar photovoltaics is limited due to space and risk of over-shading from the rooftop plant. The incorporation of PV will continue to be assessed.

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.

As part of the detailed design of the energy centre a number of ecological appraisals have been undertaken and an arboriculture impact assessment completed.  Through consideration of the siting of the development, careful planting around the site and retention of the majority of trees, the construction of the Energy Centre will lead to a net increase in biodiversity outputs.  Given that the energy centre is not manned full time, the building will also require limited additional peripheral lighting which may have impacted wildlife in the vicinity. The details of the enhancements will be included in the planning application documents and drawings.

The materials and the design of the energy centre have been carefully considered to be sympathetic to the surrounding landscape. The glazing has been located at key junctions to give glimpses into the energy centre to help educate the passers-by. The autonomous colours of the materials shown help the building nestle into the landscape. Using nature as a design driver for the choice of materials it’s an important element to the design approach. The building itself is designed to reduce carbon emissions for buildings within Solihull town centre and the specification and sourcing of materials will be developed as part of the procurement and contractual process.

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 14 months to construct both the energy centre and the network.  

We are expecting construction of the Energy Centre and the pipe network to take a little over 14 months to build. The Council will be appointing an experienced Design, Build, Operation and Maintenance Contractor to undertake these works and will ensure disruption during the construction process is kept to a minimum. Contractors will be required to work in accordance with the limits set by Environmental Health, which will include hours of work and noise standards.

A series of environmental assessments, including noise and air quality monitoring have been conducted at various locations within a close proximity of the Energy Centre. The design specification for the Energy Centre sets performance standards for noise and air quality, and plant and equipment will be selected to ensure compliance with these standards. The Energy Centre building design also includes measures to reduce noise impact, including acoustic baffles on the roof. This will continue to be monitored throughout its operation.

Initially, the phase 1 ‘heat’ 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. 

 Some of the electricity generated by the gas combined heat and power engine (CHP) will be used to power the Air Source Heat Pumps and other power requirements at the Energy Centre e.g. lighting, and the remainder will be distributed to a limited number of customers. Council buildings are set to benefit from this low carbon electricity and other customers will be announced in due course.

Solihull Council has set the aspiration of reducing its own carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 and to support a reduction in borough wide emissions to net zero by 2041. To help achieve this ambition we are working to develop a Net Zero Action Plan. We want local residents and businesses to help shape this plan to ensure our transition to Net Zero is fair to everyone. Find out more at: https://netzerosolihull.co.uk/

The chimney stack (or flue) serves the purpose of dispersing the exhaust gases from the gas boilers and gas CHP units. The location of the flue at the back of the energy centre was chosen so that it is not too far from these boilers and CHP units. Detailed air quality modelling was undertaken to determine the minimum height required so as to not impact nearby receptors such as the Leisure Centre and the 8 Homer Road residential development across the railway.

Drainage, Transport, Landscape design and a Biodiversity Impact Assessment. The drainage assessment has reviewed the site Energy Centre location to mitigate against any potential drainage issues and install suitable drainage around the site to mitigate against the threat of flooding. The transport assessment has assessed the implications of any additional vehicle movement as a requirement of the Energy Centre. The landscape and biodiversity impact assessment ensured that the project provides a net gain on biodiversity in the local vicinity.