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Examining renewable options to power neighbourhood heat networks across Manchester

Manchester City Council Greater Manchester
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Examining renewable options to power neighbourhood heat networks across Manchester


Manchester City Council



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With a vision for a low-carbon future, Manchester City Council (MCC) has been quick to explore renewable energy opportunities within the city, particularly focusing on their integration into current and future heat networks.

Enabled by the Energy Act 2023, heat network zoning will designate areas of England where heat networks are expected to provide the lowest-cost, low carbon heating. The government is currently evaluating responses to its Heat Network Zoning Consultation, with the final regulations expected later in 2024.

In anticipation of the likely regulatory direction of travel, our team was commissioned by MCC to conduct a study which would identify and evaluate a spectrum of renewable and low-carbon energy sources that can feasibly serve as heat inputs for future district heating networks.

The study acts as first step towards the council leveraging its resources and innovation to build resilient, low-carbon energy infrastructure that not only addresses current environmental challenges but also paves the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future for generations to come.

Aligning with the Manchester Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP)

We began with a desktop study, which we supplemented by engaging with technology providers, to identify what’s worked successfully in other urban areas.

The scope of the study encompassed a review of existing information contained within the Manchester Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP) in particular.

On the back of these investigations, we spotlighted a range of potential heat that suit Manchester’s urban context including, but not limited to, geothermal heat and ambient temperature water bodies.

Our integrated engineering, energy and sustainability approach

For each technology, we recorded its benefits, efficiency and seasonal variations, spatial requirements, and a high-level cost estimate, where available.

We also highlighted where there are any particular considerations such as noise and air quality impacts.

Bringing everyone along on the journey

To relay our findings, we held a workshop with key stakeholders from MCC to discuss their future regeneration plans which may surface opportunities to develop heat networks beyond those identified within the Manchester LAEP.

Our workshop brought together people from the council's infrastructure and environment, capital programmes, strategic housing and commercial teams, as well as the local distribution network operator (DNO), Electricity North West.

Collectively, we mapped out the significant regeneration areas, identifying known opportunities and constraints within each of these.

Our findings were presented in a follow-up workshop which provided an opportunity for further knowledge-sharing with wider stakeholders, and increased the levels of knowledge of renewable energy solutions across different teams at MCC.

Furthermore, our climate adaptation experts reviewed and input into the energy policies contained within the new Local Plan. This will ensure what we’ve identified in our study fits into local policy.

Engagement like this is key to successfully implementing proposed technologies at a city-wide scale, ensuring MCC can align with any control and/or local regulation.

Recommended renewable energy sources of heat

As the city is rich in mining infrastructure, and because the geology is right, geothermal heat presents a very tangible opportunity for MCC and is deserving of detailed investigation.

Despite not having a wastewater treatment works nearby, the city’s sewerage provides another opportunity for heat recovery.

The city's rivers can be used as potential heat sources in the city centre and its surrounding areas, and potentially around the North Manchester General Hospital. Further feasibility studies and engagement with the Environment Agency is recommended.

Lastly, with Manchester becoming the UK’s next datacentre hotspot, this brings with it potential to recycle waste heat and decarbonise communities across the region.

Our study confirms that, with a holistic view of systems and technology, all these heat sources can be used in combination, and re-enforced with storage solutions, to create long-term energy resilience for the city region.

We recommended the following next steps:

  • Engage with other local authorities exploring similar solutions, taking learnings from cities with recent heat network developments such as Bristol and Leeds.
  • Carry out technology-specific feasibility studies, considering technical and financial viability including a detailed techno-economic assessment.
  • Progress heat network development as part of local heat network zoning activity.
  • Develop an outline business case in line with Green Book guidance, as part of detailed project development and alongside further stakeholder engagement.

Investing in, and giving back to, local communities

As a purpose-driven organisation, we made meaningful social value commitments as part of our appointment. These included delivering several sessions in local schools, such as Manchester College and the Co-op Academy in New Islington, to educate young residents on local renewable energy options and to highlight 'green' careers.

We’re also provided ongoing job coaching via our relationship with Business in the Community, informing job seekers of opportunities in sustainability and energy.

Image credit: Manchester City Council / Vermont

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