Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council: Town Centre Low Carbon Energy Network

Solihull Council has embarked on a scheme to deliver an alternative source of affordable low carbon energy to the town centre. The network will distribute low carbon heat and power from a single energy centre directly into town centre buildings. The energy centre at the heart of this network will provide a range of renewable and low carbon energy solutions including air source heat pumps and gas combined heat and power.

The challenge

In Solihull, 57 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy we use in our buildings. If we are going to achieve our ambitious borough-wide net zero emissions target, addressing this has to be one of our priorities.

We know that heat pump technology will have a major role to play in our journey to net zero, however, the cost of applying it at an individual building level can often mean it is prohibitively expensive.

The solution

This council led scheme has the potential to help significantly reduce building energy emissions and pave the way for additional building connections in the town centre, helping Solihull in our drive towards net zero carbon emissions by 2041.

Distributing low carbon heat to customers from a centrally managed energy centre will offer potential customers an affordable way to connect and utilise heat pump technology in their buildings.  It means Solihull will have more flexibility to further increase the use of renewable and low carbon energy for these buildings as energy generation technologies improve in the future.

Solihull Council has been the project sponsor from early mapping and master planning through to the current commercialisation phase. It has project managed each stage of project development and, subject to Cabinet approval of the Full Business Case, will invest and own the network through a new Energy Services Company. The ESCo will have responsibility for network expansion in support of our Net Zero commitments and town centre masterplan investment.

The impact

The project aims to deliver carbon savings in support of Solihull Council’s ambitious climate change commitments by reducing the borough’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the amount of renewable and low carbon energy used to heat and power buildings within the town centre.

The tables below are taken from our OBC Cabinet Report 2020 and present carbon savings and Social IRR. The Social IRR is a measure of societal/environmental costs and benefits.

The economics and CO2e savings delivered by Phase 1 of the proposed scheme are summarised below:

Economics and CO2e savings delivered by Phase 1
Phase 1 only 25 years 40 years
Carbon savings, tonnes CO2e 34,115 47,833
Social internal rate of return 3.8% 4.7%
Phase 1, 2 and 3 combined have the potential to deliver the following overall carbon saving and social return:
Phases 1, 2 and 3 25 years 40 years
Carbon savings, tonnes CO2e 152,317 243,108
Social internal rate of return 9.8% 10.1%

How is the new approach being sustained?

So far, funding for this carbon saving scheme has been provided by the Government’s Heat Networks Investment Programme (HNIP) and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

In May, an outline planning Application for our Energy Centre was approved. We are continuing to work with our partners to develop a full business case and hope to appoint a final contractor to build, maintain and operate the network very soon. Subject to this work, construction could be set to start early in 2022.

Lessons learned

  • An energy infrastructure project of this nature is complex and requires cross-departmental engagement and support. The Steering Group of key council officers from across multiple directorates has been essential for building knowledge, support and momentum as the project has developed.
  • Engagement and clear communications with external stakeholders and members of the public is vital throughout the project development process to slowly build local support and awareness of the key project benefits – we have held educational events, public drop ins and engaged members of the press at key points in the project. The Energy Centre and network will cross sensitive public areas and the design features of the building seek to blend with its environment but received very positive feedback during public consultation.
  • It takes time – to refine the opportunity, to build internal understanding, follow good governance processes and secure customer buy in. Ensure you have appropriate internal resource and strategic and political buy in at each stage of the process and be realistic about your timescales.