Camden Council – Somers Town Energy

Camden Council have a target of reducing CO2 emissions across the borough by 40% by 2020, set against a baseline year of 2005. Part of this plan to reduce emissions in the local authority area is to encourage the uptake of Decentralised Energy Networks (DEN) to improve the efficiency of heating in the borough. Camden has led by example for adopting this approach through construction of the Somers Town DEN.

Project Overview

The Somers Town Heat Network provides heat and hot water to five housing estates and the redesigned Edith Neville School. A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) has been installed which, alongside heating and hot water, will produce low carbon electricity with a view to supplying the Francis Crick Institute via a private wire.

CHP is a technology that simultaneously generates heat and electricity and it can be used in a single building with appropriate heating and electrical demands, but it works particularly well when a number of varied heat demands (for example, schools, housing and hospitals) are connected through a district heating network.

The scheme was implemented in two phases. Phase 1 saw the installation of the district heating network connecting four estates (350 homes) and a retrofit energy centre being built into the basement of a 1960’s council estate in an under-used car park. Phase 2, which Camden received Heat Network Investment Project (HNIP) funding to deliver, saw the installation of the CHP engine and thermal stores, and connecting one further housing block (200 homes) and a school to the network.

A phased solution was decided upon as there was limited historical operational data to determine demand patterns and so it was deemed necessary to have a period of study following the connection of the first estates to understand the network’s performance.

Project Challenges

The location of the installation made the project extremely challenging. As the project was located close to Euston Station and St. Pancras International Station, there were significant challenges around dealing with already busy utilities and the disruption to busy streets. Extensive consultation with local residents was undertaken, with regular project updates provided, to ensure they were fully aware of the extent of the disruption in the area, as well as the benefits that the project would deliver.

The design of the retrofit energy centre was also a key challenge. The delivery of all of the plant equipment associated with Phase 2 of the development was completed within 2 days to ensure there was minimal disruption in the area. To ensure all external alterations were in keeping with the character of the area, the flue from the energy centre was designed to run up the side of the building and was clad to replicate the lift shaft already in place on the other side of the structure. This clever design is congruous with the surrounding area and the presence of the external flue is almost unnoticeable at street level.

Value Delivered

Phase 1 of Somers Town Energy was the winner of the 2016 H&V District Heating Project of the Year and has received widespread praise for the demonstration of how council housing assets can be used to drive decarbonisation. We believe this is the first stage of what will grow to become one of the UK’s major community heat networks enabling a widespread increase in efficiency of heating in the Somers Town area.

The completion of the first two phases of the Somers Town DEN has led to the connection of 550 council homes and a school to a low-carbon heating system, replacing dilapidated and inefficient heating sources, and delivering a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The increased efficiency of the heating system will also facilitate a reduction in energy costs for residents living in the social housing connected to the network, contributing to the alleviation of fuel poverty among council tenants.

In addition to the benefits realised for the buildings currently connected to the network, Somers Town Energy is due to connect to a development in the area under Camden’s Community Investment Programme and will provide low-carbon heating to a new community centre. Following the completion of the first two phases of the project, a number of potential partners have contacted the council to enquire about potential connections to the network for upcoming new developments. The construction of this asset demonstrates the value of council led energy provision and how this can support low carbon regeneration in an area.

The design of Somers Town Energy is such that when the lifecycle of the CHP has elapsed, Camden are able to potentially replace the CHP with lower carbon and more cost effective technology in the future. This flexibility in design will help Camden to further decarbonise the system, contributing to Borough-wide carbon reduction targets and aid in Camden’s response to the climate emergency.