Newcastle City Council Riverside Dene

With an estimated 7 million people living in fuel poverty, reducing energy bills and carbon emissions are a top priority and on the Riverside Dene project in the North East of England Vital Energi delivered a biomass solution which achieved both, as the development's Energy Service Company.

“Vital Energi have been flexible in their approach to developing a sustainable district heating system which the residents in Riverside Dene will benefit from for many years. We have developed a very strong professional relationship with Vital Energi ensuring the scheme was delivered on time and budget. The heating scheme compliments other energy efficiency measures installed in the refurbished blocks to ensure the area makes a large contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of the city.”

Clare Wood Senior Project Officer, Newcastle City Council

Project Overview

Vital Energi is helping to reduce fuel poverty and carbon emissions in one of the most deprived areas of North East England with the delivery of a sustainable community energy scheme to six 1960s tower blocks which were part of former council leader T Dan Smith’s “city in the sky” concept. Many of the tenants of the tower blocks on Newcastle’s Riverside Dene estate (formerly known as Cruddas Park) are experiencing fuel poverty.

As part of a large scale redevelopment of the area, Your Homes Newcastle (YHN), the Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) of Newcastle City Council, internally remodelled the blocks to create more than 550 flats that achieve ‘Decent Homes Standards’. This project received CERT funding based upon its projected carbon savings over 25 years. CERT funding is offered by energy suppliers to registered social landlords to provide access to funding for a wide range of energy saving measures to help reduce harmful emissions. Riverside Dene was also one of the first projects to be funded by the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) Low Carbon Community Heating Scheme which aims to help neighbourhoods benefit from greener energy and lower utility bills. To meet the aims of the HCA, as well as the criteria for ‘Decent Homes Standards’ and CERT funding, Vital Energi is installing an efficient and affordable heating and hot water system in all the homes. 

The Challenge

Previously, all the tower blocks in Riverside Dene, apart from Cruddas Park House, were heated by direct electricity and resident’s bills varied widely. Residents of Cruddas Park House paid a fixed charge regardless of what energy they used as there were no facilities to measure the individual heating usage of each dwelling. To overcome the disproportionate fuel bills and reduce the CO2 emissions of the previous heating system, biomass was chosen as the primary fuel source. Biomass has both environmental and financial benefits – it is a zero carbon fuel source and, based on current prices, Biomass fuel is currently 30 to 35 per cent lower than the price of gas.

Vital Energi's Solution

Vital Energi’s sustainable solution consists of a highly efficient £1.7 million wood-fuelled biomass community heating system which provides low carbon heat and hot water to the entire Riverside Dene estate from one energy centre. To fuel the biomass boiler, Vital Energi’s in-house design team created a bespoke fuel handling system which uses the existing infrastructure of Cruddas Park House. Coal bunkers, that were located in the basement of the tower block, were converted for wood pellet fuel storage, with a piping system installed that allows the biomass fuel to be fed directly into the bunkers from the biomass delivery vans. The fuel handling system then uses an automatic screw feed system which conveys the wood pellets from the bunkers to the biomass boiler. It is designed so that any increase or decrease in demand for hot water and heating on the boiler automatically changes the speed that the wood chip fuel is supplied to the biomass boiler, ensuring that it can always perform to the required output.

The existing energy centre in Cruddas Park House was also modified by Vital Energi which installed a zero carbon 750kW biomass boiler as the primary energy source. For periods of peak demand, Vital Energi installed a new 1.5MW gas fired boiler and refurbished two existing 1.2MW gas boilers which act as back-up. To future-proof the energy centre, and allow for expansion, Vital Energi’s in-house design team incorporated space for additional micro generation equipment if required. Heating and hot water is distributed from the modified ‘heat hub’ in Cruddas Park House to the five external tower blocks at Riverside Dene, through Vital Energi’s creatively designed underground pipe network. Heat loss is kept to a minimum due to Vital Energi’s specialist twin pre-insulated pipe system.

Cruddas Park House itself is heated by the tower’s existing distribution system with hot water and heating provided from the modified ‘heat hub’. Two plate heat exchangers and heat meters control and measure the hot water that is supplied to the towers from the energy hub. Each of the six tower blocks also has a plate heat exchanger and heat meter which means that the heat and hot water that is supplied to individual flats can now be measured and billed according to usage. Vital Energi will also carry out the on-going operation, management and maintenance of the community heating system for the next 10 years, with a view to extending to 20 years, as well as the responsibility for the biomass fuel supply for the next five years. 

Conclusion

Vital Energi was able to design, supply and install the ground-breaking biomass community heating system on time and on budget, meeting the essential deadlines that were imposed as part of the government’s funding commitments.

Its innovative heating solution has reduced the carbon footprint of the Riverside Dene development, helping Newcastle maintain its position as the UK’s most sustainable city.

The Riverside Dene project illustrates how biomass fuel can significantly reduce energy bills and carbon emissions, especially when replacing fossil fuels in heat only applications. 

Benefits:

  • A saving of 1,054 tonnes of CO2 per annum
  • Alleviating fuel poverty by significantly reducing heat bills
  • Helping the tower blocks achieve "Decent Homes" standards
  • The increase in thermal warmth will lead to an improvement in tenants' overall health and wellbeing