UK-first renewable heat network demonstration wins DECC funding

By AndrewBarrow

A low carbon heating project led by E.ON working with technology providers SK Solar and Star Renewable Energy and the University of Exeter has been awarded the second tranche of a Government research grant to create an innovative energy system supplying one of the country’s largest district heating systems with low carbon heat directly from sunshine.

The project, one of nine innovation projects sharing the second stage, £6 million funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), will design and build an innovative large scale solar thermal and heat pump system that will supply E.ON’s community energy centre in Cranbrook to the east of Exeter.

After initial feasibility studies the project is now in advance planning stages and hopes to start installing technology in late summer. The aim is to improve the performance of heat networks, demonstrating how the combined technologies can replace or work alongside the existing combined heat and power (CHP) district heating scheme to provide lower cost and significantly lower carbon heating and hot water.

The existing Cranbrook network takes a central source of heat from the CHP energy centre through a network of super-insulated underground pipes to homes in the village and the nearby Skypark commercial complex. Eventually the network will connect to more than 3,500 new homes in Cranbrook as well as 1.4 million sq ft of industrial space at Skypark.

The demonstrator project will see the installation of approximately 2,000 sq m solar thermal array on land near to the energy centre as well as a high temperature (>80°C) heat pump.

The Cranbrook energy centre is already fitted with rooftop solar PV panels and the project will seek to incorporate the electricity generated by those panels and the CHP to power the heat pump, providing another low or zero carbon energy source to replace mains power.

The ground-mounted panels will collect solar heat to supply the heat pump which will increase the water temperature ready for use in the heating system. Hot water which is not needed immediately can be stored in a dedicated thermal storage tank which will be installed alongside existing equipment attached to the district heating system.

A critical challenge with renewable energy sources such as solar or wind is that supply doesn’t always match demand. This demonstration project will harness the solar thermal energy in the daytime and store it before boosting to 80C overnight, using off peak electricity for release onto the network at early morning peak demand.

Tim Rook, Head of Design for Community Energy at E.ON, said: “It is fantastic to see the Government supporting innovative engineering that has the potential to change the low carbon heat landscape so dramatically. By combining these technologies and an advanced control system to select and manage multiple energy sources we have the potential to create a viable heat source that is truly renewable and independent of a fuel source.

“In years to come the integrated technology we are pioneering here could be replicated in existing and new-build district heating schemes across the country and would make a significant contribution to easing the impact on the environment which comes from domestic heating.”

Tony Norton, Director for Energy and the Environment at the University of Exeter said: “We’re delighted this innovative research project is progressing to implementation and are looking forward to working with partners in the project which will utilise the Centre for Energy and Environment’s measurement, monitoring and data analysis expertise.”

Cllr Andrew Moulding, Deputy Leader of East Devon District Council and Cabinet Member for strategic development and partnerships, added: “This is a groundbreaking project which will be of enormous benefit to our Cranbrook residents and businesses at Skypark and the Government award is further recognition that the new town is leading the way in how we use renewable energy.

“It’s also encouraging to see that the hard work we have all put in towards working together is paying dividends and leading to such innovative technology.”

The Heat Networks Demonstration SBRI competition was created by DECC to stimulate innovation that will help address cost and performance efficiency challenges related to heat networks, supporting the growth of low carbon heat networks across the country as well as providing real world evidence on reducing costs and improving energy efficiencies.


Notes to Editors

E.ON is one of the UK’s leading power and gas companies – generating electricity, retailing power and gas, developing gas storage and undertaking gas and oil exploration and production. It employs around 10,500 people in the UK and more than 62,000 worldwide.
E.ON has been voted Britain’s best large energy supplier for the third year running in the Customer Satisfaction Awards. The independent report and awards are published annually and are based on a YouGov poll of over 5,000 energy customers.

SK Solar are the UK & Irish partner for ARCON Solar, Denmark’s market leading manufacturer of solar thermal collectors specifically developed for the district heating and process heat sectors. Over the past few years ARCON Solar has supplied 19 of the largest 25 solar district heating plants in Europe. The partnership between SK Solar and ARCON offers a perfect solution for large scale solar heating projects. For further information see:

Star Renewable Energy, part of the UKs largest industrial refrigeration contractor, Star Refrigeration, has delivered several ground breaking high temperature heat pump projects. The largest of these at Drammen in Norway harvests heat from the fjord and delivers it at 90C for district heating; delivering around 85% of the networks thermal requirements. Gas is only used for peak top-up. The project, commissioned in 2010 has to date delivered around 200 million kWh. With a near zero carbon and zero emission outcome, this is a similar carbon saving to that required for one million laps of the M25 in a family car. Star was founded in Glasgow in 1970 and employs over 300 staff across 10 UK sites. The team won the prestigious Peter Ritter Von Rittinger award in 2014 for the advancement of heat pump technology.

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 19,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide league table, 10th in The Complete University Guide and 12th in the Guardian University Guide 2014. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Exeter was The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13.
The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses in the last few years; including landmark new student services centres – the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall, together with world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. There are plans for another £330 million of investment between now and 2016.

For more information contact:

Andrew Barrow on 02476 183677 or

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