For affordable housing providers across the country, maintaining heating and hot water supplies to residents is one of the biggest challenges; especially when it comes to frequently involving the care of vulnerable user groups, and routinely gaining access to occupied properties.
Although communal heating schemes (featuring shared boiler plant or other more sustainable heat sources) can offer significant efficiencies, as well as avoiding the need for annual safety inspections; precise planning and timetabling remains critical to their implementation.
The Code of Practice on Heat Networks published by CIBSE places very strong emphasis not merely on selecting the correct systems, but on the whole delivery process including the responsibilities of the scheme owner through to the customer and everything in between. From correctly assessing the resident’s needs and defining service levels, to ensuring the heat interface units and metering devices selected deliver accuracy and reliability. Such parameters are also prominent in the Heat Networks (Metering and Billing) Regulations and Switch2’s Time to Deliver eGuide.
Timing and tenant focus are paramount
Central to achieving these ambitions is early engagement with all stakeholders, particularly the end-users or residents so that the system and its energy sources are correctly sized, routed and commissioned to help deliver optimum performance. It is well documented that many of the original district heating schemes in the UK underperformed due to poor controllability and lack of user understanding, as well as technical problems such as leaks due to poor installation.
From the outset, clients and their consultants must be clear about the objectives; including whether the scheme is intended to reduce fuel poverty, improve overall energy efficiency or ultimately target Zero Carbon. Likewise the heat sources - perhaps combining waste heat, renewables or a CHP plant – as well as user profile will affect network design.
Also, as has been demonstrated on some of the major schemes being progressed in cities like London and Leicester, scope for adding more users or additional heat sources in the future has a major financial viability and CO2 reductions..
Catalyst for efficiency
Catalyst Housing is a major provider of affordable accommodation to families across London and the South East, with over 21,000 properties held under different tenures, and an ambitious development programme expected to deliver an additional 7,000 homes by 2020. Like other RSLs, Catalyst Housing has identified how the design of communal heating schemes impacts not only on CAPEX, but also the operating costs which are typically built into the energy tariff. Whilst CAPEX is a one off costs, poor decisions can lead to years of higher operational costs and poor customer satisfaction.
This therefore adversely affects fuel poverty and residents’ ability to pay their bills, which Catalyst Housing calculated had a 3-4% negative impact on its revenues. Happily, the housing association is succeeding in rectifying this situation by working with Switch2 to improve its metering and billing arrangements.
With fresh Government funding for the evaluation and design of new or improved heat networks, there is no doubt that the uptake is on the rise and will play a major part in the UK hitting its targets on carbon reduction. Keeping consumers on board and content, by putting their needs central to schemes and ensuring they can share the benefits through efficient delivery and accurate billing, will help guarantee good outcomes.
- Use best practice design objectives in the CIBSE/ADE Code of Practice
- Consider the resident before the design
- Whether it is an upgrade or new build design, involve the resident
- What is the precise aspiration and or vision for the scheme? Make a decision early on in the design stages