Woking's town centre combined heat and power (CHP) project serves a mixture of public buildings and homes. It is a key part of the council's climate change measures.
It contributes to an 82 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from the council's buildings.
Woking town centre CHP provides low-carbon heat, cooling and power to council buildings, a hotel and a conference centre. It also feeds an entertainment complex and art gallery, and more than 120 mixed tenure homes.
Woking Borough Council set up the Thameswey group of companies to oversee its energy services and help deliver the borough's climate change policies. It then set up Thameswey Energy Ltd as a joint venture energy services company (ESCo) to finance, build and operate the CHP system.
Thameswey Energy was able to attract investment from an external source. As a special purpose vehicle (SPV), it was free to spend that investment with more flexibility than a council could.
The town centre project cost £4 million spread over two phases.
The council has also received money from a wide range of organisations including:
- the Carbon Trust
- the Energy Saving Trust
- the Department of Trade and Industry
- the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Woking believed that this level of innovation was vital to reduce carbon emissions and diversify its energy supplies. This project has reduced the council's dependence on major energy companies.
However, the council was clear from the start that this project was not about providing low-cost energy to private residents. Making carbon savings isn't cheap and Woking felt that reducing emissions should take priority over reducing bills.
The council recognised that this project would not offer a quick return on investment and had to be prepared to take a long-term view on risk. The chief officer and the then council leader played key roles in championing the project and encouraging the council's willingness for innovation.
The planning department has also played a strong role. They encourage future developments to be renewable energy-compliant. Even without an adopted core strategy, Woking's planners have been able to negotiate with developers to ensure they are committed to expanding the network.
In Woking, the scheme has quite a low profile and was not an issue for residents. Many residents probably would not know where the CHP centre is located as care has been taken to minimise its visual impact. Since the network does not affect them directly, there has been little community awareness. The council has consulted the public where necessary, but they decided there was no need to run a major communications campaign.
Sean Rendall is Head of Policy and Strategy at Energy Centre for Sustainable Communities (part of the Thameswey Group). He believes that a far-sighted attitude to risk is extremely important when taking on such an ambitious project. There must be a willingness to go into uncharted territory and invest for a long-term gain. Without this it would have been easy to stick to less ambitious measures with more modest results.
He advises tapping into professional networks. These include the Combined Heat and Power Association (CHPA) for support and use publicly available data to benchmark performance and set targets.
Externally, the scheme has been a major attraction for visitors wanting to replicate it. Hundreds of councillors and officers from other councils have visited, along with consultants from overseas. The scheme has been widely acclaimed.
Woking's climate change measures (of which this project is a major part) have led to an 82 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from its own property.
Energy supplied by the town centre CHP has annual exemption from the Government's Climate Change Levy. This means that customers drawing their heat and electricity from this system typically pay less for heating, hot water and electricity.
Head of Policy and Strategy
Energy Centre for Sustainable Communities Ltd