Bridgend takes the lead with its renewable energy projects
BRIDGEND county is leading the way with renewable energy projects as one of just three places, alongside Manchester and Newcastle, in the UK to test pioneering schemes which could then potentially be rolled out across the country.
One of those is the first ever large-scale minewater energy scheme to be created in the UK with another being an underground heat network in Bridgend town for homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.
Additionally, Bridgend County Borough Council – which is looking to decarbonise by 2050 – is working with private companies such as Hitachi and Western Power Distribution on a multi-million pound partnership to bring forward a marketable energy product.
The Caerau minewater project
Could coal miners ever have imagined the black pits they spent their days in would one day contain the hope of cheap, clean energy?
Construction work on the Caerau mine-water project near Maesteg is due to begin in 2020 with the first homes being connected to the system in winter 2021.
It comes after test drilling into the mine workings under the Old Brewers site in Caerau found that the mining void was full of water to a depth of 230m – and had a temperature of 20 degrees celsius.
The project is based on technology being used in Heerlen, a city in the Netherlands, and is made possible due to the naturally-heated water from the old coal mine.
Using heat pump technology and a network of pipes, the project will begin by heating around 150 nearby homes, the local school and church.
The idea is to pump the water to a heat transference system above ground which is the size of a shipping container.
Here the heat will be extracted out of the mine water - with the mine water being pumped back into the mine to warm up again - and transported through a network of pipes to people’s homes.
The heat will get passed through a heat pump and then heat homes using their existing radiator systems.
The mine-water itself would not, at any point, enter people’s homes.
The council hopes it will get around 150 volunteer homes to sign up to the scheme who will then have the equipment put in for free.
Bridgend County Borough Council’s (BCBC) cabinet member for com- munities Richard Young said: “Either in people’s homes or outside it there will be a heat transference piece of equipment the size of a fridge.
“The residual heat that comes into a house will be boosted once more and it’s that that will heat the home.
“It is a new way of heating a home. The central heating systems we currently use are very inefficient because you’re burning gas or fuel every time you heat your home which then cools down when you turn it off and has to warm up again when you turn it on.
“With this new way you will just leave it on. It creates an ambient temperature that you’re comfortable with all the time.
“We are going to put the whole network in once the trial has been proven and then link all the properties up to it.
“It will be a cheaper way of heating homes for people because you’re not re-warming the air all the time – it will cut out the need for gas.
“We are hoping to use renewable electricity to enable the heat transference.
“As far as the technology goes we know it works because this very system is being used in the Netherlands.
“We’d like to heat about 1,000 homes. Caerau is a small mining village which is the fifth most deprived political ward in Wales.
“The scheme can also be looked at as a means to fight fuel poverty.
“It’s hard to say how much cheaper energy prices will be but I’d be disappointed if we haven’t reduced bills by about £120 a year – around a quarter – which is quite significant. That’s a rather conservative estimate but I’d rather speculate on the lower side than higher side.
“If you’re not working and you’re in poverty then a saving of over £120 a year is significant.”
The scale of the £9.4m scheme will be the first of its kind in the UK and would use existing radiators.
It includes a £6.5m Welsh European Funding Office grant with BCBC funding of £400,000 and grants from UK Government and the Welsh Government.
The project has a large number of stakeholders including Cardiff University, Natural Resources Wales, and The Coal Authority.
Cllr Young said: “Once we’ve proven it works in Caerau it should work elsewhere – South Wales is honeycombed with mines.
“What a legacy for all those miners who went down underground – they sweated, they laboured, they got injured, sometimes they died.
“Now as a result of all that labour, we are now in a situation where we can possibly heat homes with clean energy - what a tribute to that, what a legacy that they left.”
Initially there was some opposition to the plans in the village but Cllr Young says this diminished once residents were able to see how the heating system would work.
He said: “As humans we view change as a threat until it’s explained to us and we understand what’s going on and we can see it is an improvement.
“At the beginning people feared we would be installing a drilling rig and digging holes, which is what we did when we were testing the water temperature. But once they saw how the technology would work they could understand the dif- ference it would make.”
As part of the scheme, children from schools in the Llynfi Valley have been learning about how the heat beneath their feet will be used to warm homes.
Speaking at a recent full council meeting council leader Huw David said: “Around 200 pupils have taken part in recent workshops that have been specially designed to take advantage of the scheme and explain the science, technology, engineering and mathematics behind it.
“They have also learned about the valley’s rich industrial history, and how mine workings at Caerau, Bryn Navigation, Garth, Coegnant, Oakwood, Maesteg and St John’s could be used to provide a safe, continuous, efficient and cost-effective form of heat for the local community.”
The Coal Authority will be working on the site in the New Year to find out more about the flow of water in the mine workings.
Bridgend heat network project
Bridgend town’s heat network project involves multiple phases.
The project’s £2m first phase involves the installation of a combined heat and power boiler at Bridgend Life Centre which would then be used to warm not only the leisure centre but the nearby bowls hall, the civic offices, and the new Sunnyside development being built by Linc Cymru.
Subject to obtaining a £665,000 grant from the UK government and a full business case being approved the network’s first phase will be operational in October 2020.
A second scheme is being looked into centred on the Princess of Wales Hospital, Glanrhyd Hospital, and the Wildmill Estate.
And future phases involve the network expanding to connect dozens of schools, houses in Brackla, the Parc Afon Ewenny development, South Wales Police Headquarters, and industrial parks.
BCBC first began investigating heat network opportunities six years ago seeking to secure heat supplies over a 50-year period, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce energy costs for customers.
BCBC which has developed the project hopes further heat networks will be built across the county with the potential for interlinking them over time.
Cllr Young said: “The boiler currently used to heat the swimming pool at the Life Centre is coming to the end of its life and has to be changed.
“We’re going to put in a larger heat system that would also serve the network.”
Cllr Young says with the roads being dug up to install the pipes there is an opportunity to install the latest technology in people’s homes.
“We are looking at putting in things like superfast broadband and electric hook-ups for buses, taxis, and private vehicles.
“We’re also looking at technology which can be used in social care such as sensors in homes which would trigger if an elderly person had a fall and was unable to get up.
“If they broke their hip, instead of them lying there for three days and nobody finding them, the sensors would pick up there was a problem here and alert the right department which needs to be called out.”
The £120m Industry Challenge Energy Fund
BCBC is due to find out shortly if it has been successful in its bid for £40m from the UK Government’s Industry Challenge Energy Fund.
The funding is to be used to forge partnerships with private companies and transform the way energy is used and produced.
Bridgend’s place as one of three demonstrators in the UK under the UK Government-led Smart System and Heat Programme has enabled the bid.
Cllr Young said: “We are working with a number of companies already from Cenin Renewables – which is where we send all our kitchen waste to be turned it into energy - to Wales & West Utilities, Western Power Distribution, and Hitachi, which is looking at the digital side of energy.
“The aim is to work with the industry to bring these forms of renewable energy into a marketable product.
“We have to have partners in the private industry – our job is to create the system where there’s a marketable product for it to go forward.
“It needs to become attractive to energy generator companies to offer it to customers.
Assessments taking place on the Caerau Minewater scheme in early 2018