In a country famed for damp buildings and wet weather, it seems fitting that our nation’s waterways could hold the key to a renewable source of heating.

More than 20,000 homes could be heated from the energy of just 40 urban rivers

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) recently released an online heat map that compares the demand for heating across the UK with the potential power that nearby rivers and estuaries could provide.  A single heat pump drawing water from one of these waterways could have the capacity to generate more than 1 million watts of power. That’s enough to provide heating and hot water for up to 500 homes.  In addition to generating lower carbon emissions than traditional systems do, energy from rivers could also have a positive effect on the UK’s commercial electricity and gas bills.

The system has already been put into practice in the Kingston Heights housing development in Kingston-upon-Thames, heating 150 homes and a large hotel. The pumps have the capacity to draw up to 13 million litres of water per day.

But is it better than traditional heating systems?

The heat stored in our nation’s rivers and estuaries is constantly replenished – the water simply stores heat gained from the sun.  At two metres below the surface, water in the Thames is at a consistent temperature of around 8 to 10 degrees Celsius.  In Kingston Heights, this water is drawn through 200m of underground piping to a plant inside the housing development, where it passes through a filtration process designed to make sure no fish or other marine life can get in.  After passing through high-efficiency heat exchangers, the now-slightly-cooler water is fed straight back into the river without any need for treatment.

According to Mike Spenser-Morris, managing director of the company behind the Kingston development, the system saves 500 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.  The equivalent heating cost for a one-bedroom flat using traditional methods would be 18% higher.

Going nationwide

But it’s not just the Thames that has the potential for efficient, low-emission heating.  The CSE’s heat map identifies a number of promising sites for the new heat-pump technology, such as the River Tyne in Newcastle and the River Ouse in Yorkshire.  In fact, the map lists around 40 urban rivers and estuaries across the UK that could provide renewable heating sources on a large scale.

Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary and advocate of the new heating system, said that he wants ‘to help communities across England use our waterways for this renewable heat’, and that ‘if we can succeed on the large scale, it would cut Britain’s import bill and boost our home-grown supplies of clean, secure energy’.

Does your business have premises on the river front?  Would you welcome proposals to siphon heat from our waterways as a means to heat your business’s buildings?  If so, let us know.

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