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Viridor's Exeter ERF to supply heat to new planned district heat network

Viridor Ltd, a leading UK recycling and energy recovery company is supporting plans for a new carbon emission-reducing, energy-efficient district heating network in southwest England. The planned network will support efforts to tackle climate change by cutting emissions from a new housing development by up to 70 percent by using heat from Viridor's Exeter Energy Recovery Facility (ERF).

Viridor’s Exeter Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) has been operational since July 2014 under a partnership with Devon County Council and processes about 60 000 tonnes of non-recyclable household waste within Exeter and the surrounding area. The plant generates around  24GWh per annum of electricity most of which is supplied to the National Grid. As a heat ready plant, Exeter ERF has the potential to run an additional district heating scheme (photo courtesy Viridor).

The initiative is being backed by Teignbridge District Council, Exeter City Council, and Devon County Council with funding of up to GBP7.3 million (≈ EUR 8.37 million) contribution to the GBP23 million (EUR 26.4 million) capital investment project. So confident are the councils in the future benefits of the scheme that an advance payment of GBP50 000 (≈ EUR 57 327) will be made available for preliminary infrastructure works to take place.

Councillor Rachel Sutton, Exeter City Council’s Deputy Leader and Lead Councillor for Net Zero Exeter 2030, said she welcomed the initiative.

Coming up with better ways to heat our homes is vital if we are to reduce our carbon footprint. Using heat from the Energy from Waste plant is both sensible and efficient, said Councillor Sutton.

The new heat network will support the current Local Plan’s mixed-use development at South West Exeter which, with Teignbridge Council, Exeter City Council’s planned housing developments, will see up to 2 500 new homes in the area plus a new school campus, shops, and community facilities.

We support the concept of this district heating system in the southwest Exeter development, as we’ve seen it successfully introduced at other developments in the area such as Cranbrook and Monkerton, and it would help our efforts to tackle the climate emergency, said Devon County Council Leader John Hart.

Heat ready ERF

The network will be provided with heat from the nearby Viridor Exeter Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) located in Marsh Barton. The ERF puts waste that cannot be recycled to work to generate heat and power.

According to Viridor, the export of heat from Exeter ERF is around five times more energy-efficient than the generation of electricity at the plant and it would mean that for example, gas boilers would not be needed in homes within the South West Exeter development area.

With the Government stopping the use of fossil fuel heating systems in new homes in the ‘shortest possible timeline’, the network heating solution will provide homeowners with not only an environmentally friendly alternative but also a cost-effective one.

Analysis has suggested that the new heat network will reduce carbon emissions from new homes planned by up to 70 percent compared with natural gas-fired boiler alternatives, delivering carbon savings of at least 2 500 tonnes per annum via a long-term heat supply.

Last-mile multi-utility network and operator, Leep Utilities will operate the network as the Energy Services Company (ESCo). Leep Utilities is working closely with Viridor to put in place arrangements for accessing the plant’s heat.

They are also in the process of negotiating terms with the development area’s housebuilders and developers in order to provide low carbon heat to future residents and occupants.

Grant support and loan funding

Officers from Exeter City, Devon County Council, and Teignbridge Council have been working with advisers from the University of Exeter and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to bring the project forward.

The need for substantial upfront capital investment and uncertain rates of return means that the scheme today is not commercially viable, leading council members to decide to support the venture with a multi-million-pound package of grant and loan funding.

The funding will come from developer contributions, including the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is a charge on development to fund new infrastructure.  The expectation is that the system would also have the capacity to heat further new homes and commercial buildings at Marsh Barton.

This is an innovative way of helping future homeowners with an effective energy solution for heating their homes whilst at the same time making a significant impact on our carbon savings plans. It is an example of how we as a council can work with neighbouring authorities and developers to implement solutions that improve housing while tackling environmental concerns. Until contracts are signed we can’t guarantee that the scheme will go ahead but everyone is committed to overcoming the outstanding issues and pushing forward with this innovative approach, said Alan Connett, Teignbridge Council leader.

Viridor Chief Operations Officer Richard Pennells said the company, which has its headquarters in the South West, was looking forward to working with the councils.

Exeter ERF already attaches a purpose to non-recyclable waste, diverting 60 000 tonnes from landfill every year and generating enough energy to power the equivalent of more than 6 600 homes. The ERF is, however, designed to be a combined heat and power plant and we are pleased to be working with the councils and its partners to fully realise the ERF’s potential and contribute to this important initiative, said Richard Pennells.

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