Unearthing the success of heat pumps for high rise blocks

By Tim Woods | 20 January 2021

For obvious and pertinent reasons, the safety and efficiency of high rise tower blocks have been under intense scrutiny in recent years.

Poor thermal efficiency led to the installation of cladding to offer warmer and more affordable homes for tenants; but this now poses greater fire risks and so local authorities, housing associations or registered providers have had to look at alternative methods that don’t break the bank, call for mass regeneration or disrupt the lives of tenants.

Sunderland based housing association, Gentoo Group, is one of our longstanding partners and it has a bold environmental agenda which centres on making zero carbon happen, improving tenant welfare and reducing fuel poverty in the process. We have worked with Gentoo on several renewable regeneration projects over the years and were delighted to be appointed to lead their Core 364 project in Sunderland.

This innovative £9m venture tasked us with installing lifesaving sprinklers and Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) for the benefit of 364 flats across seven high rise tower blocks in the north of Sunderland; in what we believe is the largest gas replacement in high-rise tower blocks across the UK.

By degassing the seven blocks, we would renew the heating and hot water supply to all seven tower blocks, removing aged and inefficient gas heating and hot water systems from each dwelling. This would introduce high efficiency and cost-effective heating to every dwelling via Kensa Ground Source Heat Pumps; uniquely heating both their home and water with renewable heat from the Earth’s core.

Each Kensa ‘Shoebox’ heat pump – one per flat – is connected to a fifth generation district heating system consisting of ambient shared ground loop arrays. Each heat pump serves a new, low temperature radiator-based central heating system and hot water cylinder, while modern but conventional central heating controls operate the system, minimising any disruption, change or resident concerns in regard to its ongoing operation.

The GSHP installation was hugely supported by residents, with improvements to welfare and reduced energy bills. The project aso received £4.5m funding from The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive as it will provide savings of more than 2.6m tonnes of CO2 over 20 years – contributing to Sunderland’s net zero carbon ambitions.

We kickstarted the project at the end of 2019, but the impending pandemic in March 2020 naturally delayed progress. Thankfully, as restrictions eased, we were able to safely commence work on the project over the summer and in spite of difficult circumstances for all parties, we are due to complete the works this month.

Diane Carney, Director of Property at Gentoo Group said: ‘Our pioneering Core 364 project in Sunderland is at the heart of our commitment to reduce carbon emissions across the city and it has been a fantastic project to deliver for our tenants in partnership with ENGIE. Core 364 provides an innovative, energy efficient solution to providing renewable heat and hot water that will improve the lives of our tenants and the overall safety of the seven tower blocks. The project also supports our work to alleviate fuel poverty across our tenants, with the project expected to deliver real savings on fuel bills as a result of the renewable technology involved.’

In a time of great uncertainty, it is fantastic to be in a position to not only deliver for our client and improve the lives of tenants; but support them in taking major strides on the road to decarbonisation.

Tim Wood is head of sustainability at ENGIE UK

For further information on ENGIE, visit www.engie.co.uk

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