A new £140m incinerator in Leeds could be the catalyst for a district heating revolution across the city, according to the council’s senior environment official.
The imposing, stylised wood and glass-clad recovery and energy facility goes into service on a test basis shortly, ahead of going fully online in February or March next year.
Operated by Veolia under a PFI agreement, the plant will take in 165,000 tonnes of household waste a year from the city. Of that, 16,000 tonnes will be extracted as recyclate while the incinerated portion will generate 11MW of electricity to be fed into the national grid. But the centre will also be capable of powering a district heating network which, according to Neil Evans, Leeds City Council director for environment and housing, is a more efficient use of the power.
Incinerator-powered district heating systems are not new: Sheffield City Council has had one for decades. But Evans sees the initial network plans as a launching pad for something potentially much bigger.
In addition to providing heat to around 2,000 council-managed flats, he wants the network to take in the city’s two main hospitals – St James’ and the General Infirmary – and create a district heat ‘spine’ that could easily be joined by others at a later date.
“We are following examples of where it has been done successfully before,” he said. “It’s not new technology in that sense. But what we are looking at is whether we should enable the wider development of district heating as part of our energy strategy.
“If we create a central spine there would be an existing piece of infrastructure – joining up to it would be much easier, and everything would be that bit more commercially affordable.
“What you need with a district heat system is people who need heat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Technically, the issue is getting contract agreements with potential users so you have the security of a long-term commitment.”
Evans said key procurement decisions would be taken next year, and that pipes for the system could be in the ground as early as 2017.
He added that in addition to servicing a wider range of users, the network could also accommodate more heat providers.
“We’ve looked into the potential for an expanded heat network, and there is interest from some of the country’s biggest internet providers, who have servers based in the city,” he said. “They generate a lot of heat, and there is potential for other heat providers to tap into this.”
Leeds is also considering converting its entire fleet of refuse trucks to run on natural gas in a move that would reduce their current diesel emissions and potentially kick-start the wider use of such vehicles across the city. A handful of its vehicles already operate on gas.
Evans said energy provider Northern Gas had conducted a feasibility on creating a natural gas vehicle fuelling station in Leeds that would be fed directly from the national network.
“We have said we will guarantee to convert our 80 refuse trucks to take gas so that there is a guaranteed amount of custom,” Evans said.
He added that the project would make gas-powered vehicles viable for other public sector users and commercial operators. While heavy goods vehicles would enjoy the biggest fuel savings from running on natural gas, improvements to the city’s air quality from reducing the use of diesel was also important.
A decision on grant funding for the project from regulator Ofgem is expected next month.