Sheffield has head start in the race to 'decarbonise heat', EON-sponsored discussion hears

Sheffield has two big advantages in the race to ‘decarbonise heat’, a round table heard.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 11th April 2022, 1:06 pm

The city has two district heating networks that warm buildings with steam from power stations - seen as a key way for the nation to go green.

E.ON sponsored the event, which discussed the challenges and opportunities firms face in moving towards net zero.

It operates the Blackburn Meadows plant - on the site of the old Tinsley Cooling Towers - which burns waste wood and is therefore ‘ultra low carbon’.

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Decarbonising Sheffield Roundtable discussion with E.ON. Picture: Chris Etchells

It is keen to expand its district heating network and welcomes interest from local companies who want to connect. Underground pipes currently extend all the way to Sheffield Arena and include Ikea and Forgemasters.

The other network connects city centre buildings with the Veolia energy from waste plant.

The discussion was chaired by The Star editor Nancy Fielder and attended by more than a dozen leaders from business, the public sector and academia.

Antony Meanwell, head of decarbonisation at E.ON, said the firm had moved into renewable energy over the last 10 years.

Decarbonising Sheffield Roundtable discussion with E.ON. Pictured is Antony Meanwell from E.ON. Picture: Chris Etchells

The Government wants to grow the number of residential connections on district heating from about 450,000 homes today, some two per cent, to 5m by 2050 - 18 per cent of all homes, he added. The investment required is about £80bn.

Mr Meanwell said: “The decarbonisation of heat is key if we are to hit our net zero aspirations. Our district heating network in Sheffield is the perfect way for local business, public sector buildings and residential properties to move away from gas and to decarbonise its heat.

“The heat network is powered from our Blackburn Meadows biomass energy centre which uses locally-sourced recycled wood and as a result is ultra low carbon.

“Taking heat from our network not only supports the decarbonisation of heat but supports local jobs and, as all the wood is sourced from the UK, it is a very secure and stable source of energy.”

Decarbonising Sheffield Roundtable discussion with E.ON. Pictured is Prof. Solomon Brown, Departmental Director of Research and Innovation,The University of Sheffield and The Star Editor, Nancy Fielder. Picture: Chris Etchells

Jeremy Makepeace, commercial director at Sheffield Forgemasters, said 70 per cent of their carbon footprint was from gas and 25 per cent from electricity.

Rooftop solar panels had the potential to generate up to eight per cent of electricity requirements.

He added: “Net Zero Carbon is not a standalone activity but really a business transformation exercise which involves all departments and stakeholders within an organisation, not just operations.

“We believe that Net Zero Carbon cannot be achieved in isolation and requires engagement with multiple parties for success, including energy and technology suppliers, equipment manufacturers, our supply chain and customers and all aligned to government initiatives.

Jeremy Makepeace. Commercial Director at Sheffield Forgemasters. Picture: Chris Etchells

“There is also a need to develop a Sheffield cluster to identify aggregated hydrogen demand to assist in creating a business case for hydrogen producers.”

City Taxis, which runs hundreds of cars, wants to be a net zero company by 2025, either through electric or hydrogen powered vehicles.

Paul Gosney, of City Taxis, said it had agreements with manufacturers, charging companies and landowners for charging sites. It is also trialling two Toyota hydrogen cars.

He added: “We are in continuous dialogue with Sheffield City Council around our plans, hopefully being able to collaborate with them at some point and although funding has been alluded to, nothing has been allocated.

“We have the solutions and amazing concepts but we need some help to achieve our targets, apparently funding is there and we would like to share it.

“The charging hubs and infrastructure would not only be for taxi/private hire drivers, they would welcome public use too, reducing ‘electric anxiety’.”

Tasha Lyth, Gripple Limited. Picture: Chris Etchells

Frank Ashton, head of strategy and commercial development at Pressure Technologies, said: "With all of the resources reflected around the table, we have a good opportunity to create a consortium that submits for funding from the Industrial Hydrogen Accelerator competition starting shortly.

“Chesterfield Special Cylinders is very interested in providing high-pressure storage solutions to that consortium."

Richard Sully, of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, said behaviour change was still important, as well as improving operating efficiency at firms.

Neil Schofield, environment manager at Outokumpu said Sheffield should be at the centre of the nation’s circular economy. But the steel industry was on its knees due to uncompetitive energy prices.

He added: “We want government to wake up to the fact that steel is part of the solution not part of the problem. It’s not the smokestack industry it used to be.”

Prof Solomon Brown, of the University of Sheffield, said the university had an energy institute with 240 PhD researchers and was a ‘national superpower’.

It had also just opened South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre which will bring together researchers, businesses and organisations across the region to design solutions to regional and global sustainability challenges and work towards net zero emissions by 2050.

The centre is led by the University of Sheffield through a partnership that includes the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, the four South Yorkshire local authorities, Sheffield Hallam University, and a range of private and voluntary sector organisations.

Projects that will be coordinated by the centre include the optimisation and decarbonisation of transport routes, retrofitting housing stock, decarbonising the agri-food sector and heavy industry, and restoring the region’s natural environments and assets.

It has received £5m from Research England.

E.ON’s Blackburn Meadows plant burns waste wood that can’t be recycled and would otherwise go to landfill.

A form of ‘biomass’, it has an ultra-low carbon content of 0.063 kgCO₂/kW. The company says it produces 65 per cent less carbon emissions than natural gas.

The site produces enough electricity for 69,000 homes - about a quarter of Sheffield – and is a secure, domestic source of power at a time of huge uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine.

As well as the district heating network, it is home to a big battery which the National Grid calls on to instantly respond to ‘peaks’ and ‘dips’ in supply.

Frank Ashton, Pressure Technologies, Head of strategy and commercial development. Picture: Chris Etchells
Richard Sully, Sheffield Combined Authority. Picture: Chris Etchells
Jeremy Makepeace. Commercial Director at Sheffield Forgemasters. Picture: Chris Etchells