Norway town generates 85% of its heat for 1/7th cost of gas – without emissions – thanks to Glasgow’s Star Renewable Energy

Dave Pearson, Director - Star Renewable Energy
Dave Pearson, Director – Star Renewable Energy

Dave Pearson, former Director of Innovation of Glasgow-based Star Refrigeration – the UK’s largest industrial refrigeration contractor who now leads the specialist subsidiary Star Renewable Energy – will tell the remarkable story of the Drammen heat-pump renewable energy scheme before an international energy conference today (22 April).

In 2009, Glasgow based Star Renewable Energy was the first company in the world to offer a city-sized heat pump at 90C using a natural working fluid, ammonia. Heat pumps cool one fluid and transfer this heat to another fluid but at higher temperature using only a fraction of the primary energy.

In the case of Drammen, in Norway, the Glasgow team harvest heat from the fjord and cool it by 4 degrees. In doing so they deliver enough heat for 6,000 houses to a district heating network.

The project has successfully delivered 85% of the district heat, saving a carbon emission equivalent to 1 million laps of the M25.

Whilst heat pumps are not new – in fact they were first discussed by Glasgow University Professor Lord Kelvin in 1852 – they are more commonly using synthetic compounds as the working fluids which in themselves are significant global warming gases. R134a, a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) for example had it been used at Drammen would have created a warming effect equal to 800,000km per year from just a 1% leakage of such a large system. HFCs are hence subject to an 80% phase down programme in the EU.

Pearson will tell the story of Drammen, which is about 25 miles from Oslo, in Serbia, where the National Alliance for Local Economic Development is holding a meeting today of the mayors/ provosts of a dozen eastern European Cities united in their quest for a better economic environment.  

Norway's Drammen Water District Heat Pump Building
Norway’s Drammen Water District Heat Pump Building

Energy is a large demand on public and private finances in every country with an estimated €1 billion per day of fossil fuel imported into the European Union, approx €100m/day for the UK. Whilst wind turbine and other techniques for using local resources to generate electricity is instantly recognisable, the biggest use of energy in Europe is actually for heating.

Heating accounts for around 50% of fuel in the UK and finding ways of meeting this need cleaner and cheaper without using fossil fuel is increasingly considered extremely important.

Pearson said: “Belgrade is a remarkable city at the cross roads of Europe’s history and this week the delegates will share a variety of ideas on how to improve the health and wealth of their citizens. Our story in its own minor way is part of a future generation of smart thinking as we can provide heat for Belgrade from the river Sava and the river Danube.

“Most large cities – including Glasgow –  are on significant rivers, whether for food, transport, trade or defence reasons but now major cities are being recognised as a cross road in the energy journey.

“We still find it hard to believe that heating – the use of around 50% of our imported fuel – gets so little attention when a solution exists that would use around half the fuel. Add in the potential to provide useful cooling for data centres as a by-product and perhaps Lord Kelvin’s dream is slowly coming to reality. No wonder Drammen has been nominated as European Heat Pump City of the Year 2015. Hopefully we can add this accolade to the others.”

Asked why rivers were a good source of heat, Pearson added: “Anything that can be cooled is a viable source for a heat pump but the proximity, predictability and low-cost of harvesting river water currently makes them better than any other source – including geothermal or mine water.

“Thanks to our  Scottish climate, the sheer volume of water that runs in our rivers makes them the biggest and best source and our relatively mild UK climate means -that whilst we may need the heating quite a lot of the year – the rivers are rarely too cold to yield a few degrees; enough for big heat pumps.

“The River Clyde, for example, could offer enough heat for 500,000 houses. The Forth Estuary, being in effect the North Sea is larger than required for all of Edinburgh.

“Aside from our existing needs for heat, we could be growing locally all sorts of imported, sometimes air freighted crops if we had cheaper heat for greenhouses – quite literally a jobs revolution waiting for action.

Large river source heatpumps would be an excellent anchor project for Glasgow’s City Deal. Any notion that the technology isn’t ready is disproven at Drammen. Any notion that networks are better off rolled out based on gas is a colossal mistake that will consign a generation to burning fuels, probably gas.

Drammen makes 85% of its heat for 1/7th of the cost of gas and without local emissions. Any Scottish university, social housing association, city authority, hospital, shopping mall or hospital could benefit from this.

“Our team in Glasgow have done the hard engineering to bring this solution into the 21st century and I’m delighted to be sharing it this week in Belgrade. I hope we can do the same closer to home as well and deliver value for the people and planet.

“To this end I call on the leaders of the political parties to follow the SNP’s commitment this week to seek an extension beyond 2015 for the RHI and even go further and enshrine the funds in general taxation to remove the uncertainty the election cycle brings to the market.”


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