SKM: Energy centres need to be closer to users

Future developments in the UK must consider locally produced energy at the masterplanning stage in order to create sustainable communities as the UK faces an energy crisis, according to Peel Group's sustainability advisor on Media City.

Sinclair Knight Merz was the lead designer for the tri-generation – combined cooling, heat and electricity – system at Media City, a pilot for the BRE Environmental Assessment Method Communities scheme for which the project achieved an 'excellent' rating.

Frank Mills, director of SKM, said: "MediaCityUK is a leading example of sustainable regeneration on a grand scale. Peel is now using the project as a model for other waterfront developments in Wirral and Liverpool."

Mills added: "However, the UK as a whole is not working to the same standards and SKM believe that developers need to work to BREEAM guidelines and include district energy in the masterplan to create environmentally sound communities.

Rebecca Warren, mechanical engineer at SKM, said: "For decades the development of many cities has been reactive – responding to cheap energy and rapid growth with sprawling suburbs. But a more proactive approach which combines high density living with open spaces accessible to all, rapid and affordable public-transit systems, local food production and waste treatment is being recognised as the route to successful urban development.

"As we descend into a post-peak [fossil fuel supply] world, remaining reserves will become more precious. Developed countries, with their dwindling indigenous reserves, will be increasingly dependent on energy imports plunging people into fuel poverty.

"The only logical conclusion has to be that we must prepare for the inevitable move away from fossil fuels. A low carbon future is not only the best way forward, but, the only way."

Mills continued: "It is also important to look at the asset value of a site and to work with it. We don't value our waterfronts in the UK like the rest of Europe. And by making careful considerations at design stage – of the orientation and choice of façade – buildings can be created which require significantly less energy to heat, cool and light."

More than half of the energy generated in large remote power stations is lost to the atmosphere. Unlike electricity, heat does not lend itself to transmission over large distances. Two thirds of our domestic energy demand is for heat and many industries are heat intensive. By locating power generation plants nearer to our centres of population not only do we reduce transmission losses but we can also utilise this waste heat, massively increasing energy efficiency.

At development-wide scale, district energy also provides cost savings. Instead of the cost and space requirements of plant rooms in individual buildings energy plants can be centralised improving maintenance and freeing up space to let.

Warren said: "Existing buildings with poor fabric performance have a much greater heat requirement. However providing a heat network to them and linking into their, potentially aging systems creates potential problems. Clear demarcation of responsibility is needed as well as government incentives for connection.

"The financial implications are seen as the biggest barrier of all, but there is no reason why district energy schemes should not provide a competitive cost model if a long-term view is adopted. As more energy supply companies and multiple utility supply companies emerge there is the possibility of externalizing some of the financial risk – which in turn should assist with client confidence."

  • Frank Mills and Rebecca Warren will be speaking at Greenbuild Expo at Manchester Central on June 30. The event runs from June 29 -30 and is free.

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