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And the winners are...

Once again, a set of outstanding local energy schemes has won awards from the UK Association for Decentralised Energy. Steve Hodgson was among the judges.

The UK is unusual in recognizing and rewarding the best local, decentralized energy schemes each year through awards from the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) - which, until a year ago, was the Combined Heat and Power Association. The new name reflects the Association's interests in district energy systems and demand side energy services as well as combined heat and power (CHP) - all parts of the UK's decentralized energy transition across the industrial, public, commercial and domestic sectors. Both CHP and district heating schemes were well represented among award winners.

Innovation, ambition and future thinking were at the heart of the awards, said the ADE, as guests celebrated the successes of the decentralized energy industry at a dinner last November. ADE Director Dr Tim Rotheray said: 'Our industry is delivering real change, whether it is through designing systems that save clients money, installing equipment that cuts energy use, lifting the vulnerable from fuel poverty or helping businesses manage their energy. We are the driving force behind powerful change; the change of hundreds of thousands of actions that are moving the UK to be a more efficient, less wasteful economy.'

The awards dinner was preceded by the ADE and UK Energy Institute's annual conference, Heat 2015, which attempts to refocus some attention away from the electricity system to the rather different, and larger, set of industries that supply thermal energy to homes, businesses, industrial sites and, via district heating systems, to whole neighbourhoods and cities. The case for CHP is, of course, built on making use of the heat otherwise discarded during thermal power generation - enough heat to warm all the homes in the UK, according to the ADE.

The conference tries to provide a new focus on the potential of this 'waste' heat, and on a wider strategy to gradually decarbonize the heat industry in the UK.

On the day of the conference, the UK government announced £300 million ($442 million) of funding to support the development of 200 new heat networks across the country. The suggestion is that this funding would open the door to around £2 billion of private sector investments in heat infrastructure for UK cities. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest and activity in district heating in the UK, with private sector developments joining the more traditional public sector in offering client building and homes for connection to new networks.

But it's not all about district heating. At the conference, Rotheray suggested that higher electricity prices and steady gas prices in the UK were beginning to make the economic case again for industrial-scale CHP, a sector where growth has been close to zero for quite a few years. At the same time, the UK market for CHP in the commercial and public sectors - e.g., for hospitals and prisons - remains healthy, he added.

However, data published by the government for 2014 showed a slight decrease in net CHP capacity over the 2013 figure, to just over 6 GW of electricity generating capacity. In 2014 CHP generated 6% of UK electricity, with 67% fuelled with natural gas and a further 11%, and rising, generated from renewable fuels.

The slight decrease seems to have been caused by a fall in both heat and electricity generated within the chemicals industry - the closure or scaling-back of one or two large industrial plants can have a decisive effect on the totals. While 67 CHP schemes rated at over 10 MWe represented just 3% of the total number of CHP plants, with a combined power generating capacity of just under 5 GW, those 67 plants generated 79% of the total amount from CHP.

Awards were given in six categories.

Industrial and Commercial Award

The Industrial and Commercial Award had more high-quality entries than those submitted in recent years. Unusually, therefore, awards were presented to two winners for projects that both set precedents for the future.

Cofely UK was chosen for the ambition and commitment shown to reducing energy waste at the South Humber Bank Power Station, which supplies steam and power to major energy users on a large industrial estate in northeastern England. Since acquiring the station in 2012, the company has introduced a host of improvements aimed at reducing energy users' costs and carbon emissions - simultaneously increasing the scheme's overall efficiency by 8.6%.

These include the addition of more efficient boilers and a gas engine CHP scheme, de-bottlenecking the existing boiler system and new, live energy intelligence. The sizeable overall scheme now comprises two 48 MWth gas turbine CHP units, plus the new gas engine unit, two steam turbines and two package boilers.

Cofely was congratulated for its holistic programme of ruthless cutting of energy waste at a major existing site, expanding both its output and efficiency.

South Humber Bank Power Station CHP

Credit: Cofely

The second winner, Edina Group, was chosen for its integrated approach to on-site sustainability at Arla Foods, a new dairy farm in Buckinghamshire. The company installed a 4 MWe CHP scheme, which operates on a mixture of 89% natural gas and 11% biogas to provide heat for dairy activities such as pasteurization and cleaning. Biogas is produced by the anaerobic digestion of effluent from dairy operations. The new energy centre is sited within a 5 metre bund with acoustic fencing.

Edina won the award for innovation with the CHP system, the blending of gas with biogas and the use of thermal storage.

Public Sector Award

The Public Sector Award went to South West Devon Waste Partnership and MVV Environment to mark the scale and ambition of their energy-from-waste plant project in Plymouth - which will provide heat and power to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) establishment and to Devonport Royal Dockyard.

After a lengthy procurement process and developed under the Private Finance Initiative, the new 25 MWe pass-out condensing steam turbine plant burnt its first waste and delivered the first electricity to the grid in the middle of 2015. Project partners include three local authorities as well as MVV, the Mannheim municipal energy company from Germany.

The scheme was commended for having won a rare contract from the MOD, which accounts for a significant share of the UK government's emissions. The scheme is located close to the city of Portsmouth, so has the potential to connect into a wider city network in the future.

Campus, Community and Residential Award

British Gas Efficiency won the Campus, Community and Residential Award for its work on the phased development of a district heating scheme for Solihull Community Housing in the Midlands of England. The new scheme, which will serve over 1000 dwellings across 23 tower blocks, is based on biomass and backup gas-fuelled boilers, a new district heating network and heat interface units for the individual homes. Heat is supplied to new radiator systems and thousands of people in Solihull now have warmer and more energy-efficient homes.

Prior to installing the new heating system - which replaces electric storage units - Cofely installed new external wall insulation in the buildings to reduce heat losses.

CityWest's smart metering project

Credit: CityWest Homes

The scheme was commended for the dual approach to both demand reduction and supply efficiency. British Gas Energy Efficiency did a fine job of bundling together funding from several different sources to get the project off the ground.

Integrated Energy Award

The Integrated Energy Award celebrated the use of electric heating, rather surprisingly, to save money for tenants of CityWest Homes in Pimlico, London. But not just ordinary electric heating - 800 flats across eight all-electric tower blocks were retrofitted with half-hourly smart meters with communication modules, to optimize the use of electricity against system charges.

Each tower block includes a web-enabled transmitter that switches heating and hot water loads, facilitating economy by adjusting the charging periods of the heaters according not only to outside air temperatures, but also to the day's cheapest half-hourly rates, separately evaluating charges for the use of the electricity company's transmission and distribution systems.

City West Homes effectively negotiated the contract for electricity at a lower price by aggregating demand from multiple flats into one contract. The centralized control allows storage heaters to be boosted during the day at a time of low electricity pricing - providing affordable warmth for the householders.

Innovation Award

The Innovation Award was awarded to Guru Systems for its use of real-time remote monitoring to improve the energy efficiency of district heat networks. The Guru system, which judges said could become the new norm among district heating schemes, has already been implemented on around 75 district heating networks around the UK.

Comprising a control and display 'Guru Hub' in each property, a secure internet gateway per site and cloud-based server infrastructure, the energy efficiency and smart payment technology takes district heating control and billing to a new level. The system uses wireless technology to connect heat meters and building management systems to monitor system performance and detect any issues before costs mount up.

Collected performance data allows operators to remotely diagnose the cause of any efficiency problems on their networks, and proposes improvement measures. The system also gives householders far more control than conventional controls, which are primitive in comparison.

Solar PV system at St Peter's University in New Jersey, US

Credit: ENER-G

International Award

For the International Award category, Britain's ENER-G Group was celebrated for its use of a range of complementary technologies, including both gas-fuelled trigeneration systems and solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, at St Peter's University in New Jersey, US.

The two-phase project was completed under 15- and 17-year 'pay-as-you-save' energy services agreements which were funded by ENER-G with no capital cost to the University. Phase 1 for the West campus includes two 160 kWe trigeneration units and a 200 kW solar PV system, together with a 150 refrigeration tonne (RT) absorption chiller to provide chilled water. An upgrade of the energy infrastructure, including new boiler and variable speed pumps, and a new building energy management system were also implemented.

At the East Campus, ENER-G installed one 160 kWe trigeneration unit and a 70 kW PV system, plus another 150 RT absorption chiller. Similar demand reduction measures were also carried out.

As well as reaping the energy- and cost-saving benefits, the University is to use the energy centre as training and teaching facility, with viewing available from the campus cafeteria.

Highly Commended entries

Three schemes didn't quite make the cut but were highly commended by the judges. First, in the Innovation category, Arup's Decentralised Energy Programme Delivery Unit was congratulated for its efforts to bolster the market for district heating and CHP across London, working with the Greater London Authority.

Meanwhile, Cofely was highly commended for two entries: Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire for the Public Sector category and Aston University in the English Midlands for the Campus, Community and Residential category. At Rampton Hospital, Cofely installed a biomass boiler, three dual fuel (gas and oil) boilers and a 1.2 MWe CHP system to supply all the hospital's heat and hot water requirements, and most of its power needs. The new system replaces an old coal-fired plant.

The Aston University entry focused on the Aston side of the much larger Birmingham District Energy System, which Cofely owns and operates for Birmingham City Council. The energy centre has a total heat capacity of 18 MWth, with 3.8 MWth provided from two reciprocating CHP engines and the rest from backup boilers. The scheme also supplies up to 3 MW of electricity to the majority of Aston University Campus buildings.

With award-winning combined heat and power and district heating systems, plus the integration of renewable fuels and the use of innovative system controls, decentralized energy in the UK is doing anything but standing still.

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