We are working with the University of Cambridge to explore the feasibility of developing a ‘heat network’ for the city centre.
District heat network
A district heat network is large-scale plumbing for a city. It supplies space heating and hot water using one or more energy centre and delivers it to a variety of different buildings in a local area, via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water.
There are examples of district heat networks in many cities and towns already, across Europe and in the UK, which have traditionally been heated by gas. We are looking into the feasibility of developing a 21st century district heat network, which would use zero-carbon or low-carbon sources. This is likely to involve large renewable heat pumps.
The Climate Change Committee, an independent body who advise the government on climate change, estimates that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from district heat networks by 2050 to meet the Government’s national climate targets.
The council, in partnership with the University of Cambridge, are conducting a heat network feasibility study.
If the study identifies it is feasible and funding is available to develop the project further, a heat network could eventually be built. Which could supply renewable heating and hot water to city centre buildings belonging to the council, the University of Cambridge, Colleges and other property owners in the city such as businesses, shops, restaurants, hotels, public buildings and residential blocks, many of which currently rely on fossil fuels.
This could provide a solution to reduce the carbon emissions produced by historic buildings in the city-centre of Cambridge, such as the Corn Exchange and the Guildhall, to help us to work towards our ambitious target to reduce our direct carbon emissions to net zero carbon by 2030.
It would also help to reduce the carbon emissions of various University of Cambridge and College sites that may be among some of the hardest in the city to decarbonise, helping the University work towards its Science Based Target to cut energy related (Scope 1 and 2) CO2 emissions from its operational estate to absolute zero by 2048, with an aspiration to be a decade ahead.
The project so far
In autumn 2022, the City Council and University of Cambridge partnership were successfully awarded government funding from the Heat Network Delivery Unit (HNDU) to carry out a feasibility study to determine the technical and economic feasibility of the scheme. Expert consultants AECOM have been appointed and have begun conducting the feasibility study which will consider:
- possible heat sources: environmental heat (air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and water source heat pumps) and industrial waste heat
- potential energy centre locations
- potential pipe routes
- potential customers: buildings which could connect to a heat network
- if the heat network has the potential to expand and adapt over time to provide a pathway to decarbonise as much of the city as possible
The feasibility study will focus on the Core Network City Area (shown within the blue line on the map) and review the wider Study Area (shown within the red line on the map).
The study is due to be completed in summer 2023. We will update this page with more information on the project as it progresses.
How you can help
If you are a business, shop, restaurant, hotel, building owner, landlord of residential blocks or a commercial tenant with one or more buildings in the Study Area, please email District.Heat@cambridge.gov.uk. Whilst the deadline for collecting data to be used in the feasibility study has now passed, we’re still keen to hear from people interested in connecting to the heat network.
The engineers carrying out the feasibility study are calculating the heat requirements of the local area, and whether it is viable for buildings to connect to a Cambridge City Centre Heat Network and potentially decarbonise these facilities.
We will keep you informed of progress over the next few months.
- zero-carbon heating and hot water for Cambridge’s historic city-centre: a heat network is likely to be one of the main ways to help create a carbon-neutral city
- clean air: a network would help reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions in the Clean Air Zone and improve air quality
- heat pump-led heat networks will become the new normal
- Cambridge already has a successful track record in heat network development at some of the University Colleges such as King’s College, Jesus College, Homerton College, Emmanuel College, St John’s College and Eddington
- scale: a city centre core scheme provides the opportunity to balance ambition and practical delivery
- there is significant heat demand in Cambridge and the opportunity to potentially expand and grow the network
If you have any questions about this project, please contact us at District.Heat@cambridge.gov.uk.
Find out what else the council and the University of Cambridge is doing to address climate change.