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Sheffield makes an annual saving of 21,000 tonnes of carbon emissions

Sheffield has one of the largest district energy networks in the UK, feeding leisure facilities, council buildings, universities and homes.

What started out as a small network connecting just a few blocks of flats now serves more than 140 buildings. Heat provided by the network saves up to 21,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year.


The Sheffield District Energy Network uses steam created from energy recovery to generate electricity and supply heat to over 140 buildings. These include offices, leisure facilities, hotels, houses, apartments and the Town Hall. It covers a wide area of Sheffield including Netherthorpe, Western Bank, the heart of the city and Weston Park Hospital. Funding In the 1980s, Sheffield City Council formed Sheffield Heat and Power Ltd and developed an existing 60s network to primarily feed blocks of flats. A bank loan extended the network to universities and a leisure complex.

Further loans led to more connections. In 2001 recycling and waste management organisation, Veolia Environmental Services took over the business when it won the council's 35-year waste management contract. In 2006, a new Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) costing around £80 million made further expansion possible.


The initial trigger for building networks was the fuel crises of the 70s. The network created a stable, reliable energy supply which was cost effective.

As environmental awareness has grown, the system is now seen as a vital tool to reduce carbon emissions and waste going to landfill.


The banks would not agree to the first extension loans until the council could prove that demand for the network was there. By developing strong relationships with the city's two universities, the council was able to show that the expansions were viable. Veolia continues to work very closely with the universities and discusses network connection whenever a new building is developed. The areas connected by the network are very built up so digging up roads for the pipes needs very careful planning. By working both with the council and with utility companies, Veolia is able to minimise disruption when installing new connections. They also encourage developers to have network connections built before the buildings themselves, meaning the ultimate owners or tenants are ready for connection as soon as they move in.

Lessons learned

Very large projects can develop from very modest beginnings. Sheffield is one of the largest networks in the country, yet it began simply as a connection between a council incinerator and local flats. It has taken decades to reach its current size, but by building a strong business case, and delivering consistent value for money, connections soon multiply.

Networks are adaptable. Some of those connected have requested cooling as a further service so Veolia is now investigating how it can offer chilling to its customers. Both modern and traditional buildings can be connected to a network without extensive work. The ERF serves both the Millennium Galleries buildings which opened in 2001 and Sheffield's Victorian theatre, the Lyceum. Since connecting in 1991, the latter has consumed more than 14,000,000 kWh of energy, saving over 2,600 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.


Heat provided by the network saves up to 21,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year. In this project, one tonne of municipal solid waste has an energy content equivalent to a third of a tonne of coal. So the facility has a significant role to play in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Up to 60MW of heat is supplied to over 140 buildings connected to the network and this number of connections is growing. The plant also generates up to 19MW of electricity for the National Grid. That's enough to power up to 22,600 homes.

Further benefits include:

  • reduced costs - businesses that connect can avoid the Climate Change Levy
  • high efficiency - more useful energy is produced with less fuel input because the heat exchanger equipment is more efficient
  • reliability - skilled engineers monitor the network 24 hours a day. Backup heat supplies can be introduced through hi-tech control systems at a moment's notice
  • safety and control - harmful emissions are not produced by the heat exchanger so a flue or chimney is not required
  • low carbon - the carbon content of district energy is calculated as 0.137 kg of CO 2 per kWh.


Martin Simpson, District Energy Manager


Email: [email protected]