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Renewable energy to flow from river into council homes

River Wensum
River Wensum
Published on Wednesday, 1st September 2021

An innovative heating system using water from the River Wensum is set to achieve a major reduction in carbon emissions from a city council housing development, if proposals receive approval.

Plans to build a heat pump using river water as a renewable energy source at Barnards Yard, close to the city centre, have already received initial approval from the Environment Agency and are still subject to cabinet agreement and planning permission. 

The new system will provide heating and hot water to 85 homes, replacing the current system which uses natural gas: a carbon generating fossil fuel. This will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, emitting approximately 270 tonnes less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere each year: the equivalent absorption of almost 1,300 fully grown trees. The pump itself will be powered by renewable electricity, so no particulates will be created by combustion on site.

Increasing the energy efficiency of the housing stock in the city is key priority in the council’s environmental strategy.

Benefits to residents include the introduction of specific billing for each property, meaning their bills will accurately reflect their energy usage, thanks to a computerised tracking system. This will replace the current communal heating charges which means that charges are shared equally between the block, regardless of usage.

Councillor Gail Harris, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for social housing said: “These exciting proposals demonstrate our ongoing commitment to investing in the city’s social housing, and crucially enhancing its environmental credentials.

“This is a fantastic example of innovation, seeking available funding and working with the Environment Agency to design a system that will benefit residents living in our properties while also reducing carbon emissions.

“It really shows how the city council is leading the way in great, eco-friendly social housing, continuing the legacy of developments such as our award-winning Goldsmith Street properties.”

The value of the contract is estimated at £1.8m, with £600,000 being reimbursed to the council via a successful grant application to central government for renewable heating projects.  The overall expense will also be offset by ongoing efficiency savings from reduced running costs of the new system.

A report detailing these proposals will be discussed at Norwich City Council’s cabinet on Wednesday 8 September. If approved, the contract will begin at the end of September and is due to be completed by April 2022.

Barnards Yard residents are being contacted directly with more information about the plans and details of what the work will involve.

Further information

The system will work by removing water from the Wensum and pumping it into a new plant room before it is returned to the river. A small amount of heat is taken from the abstracted water before it is discharged back into the river. The heat generated by the heat pumps will heat water stored in buffer vessels in the plant room. This heated water will be pumped to each dwelling to provide hot water and heating. At no point is the river water mixed with water to be used in homes.

Planning permission is being sought for a new plant room to house two custom built titanium heat exchangers to extract heat from the water, in line with Environment Agency regulations. These will feed five heat pumps which will work together to ensure balanced and monitored usage to maximise performance and life expectancy.

This scheme has been awarded Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (NDRHI) funding by central government via a tariff guarantee already in place. The upfront capital costs of the scheme will be paid from the council’s Housing Revenue Account. The NDRHI will fully reimburse the council for the cost of the scheme over a 20-year period, expected to be around £600,000.

There are substantial savings on the cost of running the system when compared to the existing gas fired system. This equates to annual savings of approximately £20,000. For the 20-year duration of the NDRHI funding, this represents a saving on the cost of supplying energy of £400,000.

These savings will contribute towards the provision of affordable warmth and the alleviation of fuel poverty as running costs will be lower than at present.

Detailed consultation has taken place with the Environment Agency with regards to the design and to obtain all the necessary permits and licences required to use the River Wensum.

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