Visit to a low carbon heating energy scheme

We’re not alone!

Yes, there is intelligent life beyond Chipping and no, Chipping is not going to be a guinea pig for some hare-brained low carbon energy scheme. There is plenty going on out there in a variety of approaches.

The scheme at Swaffham Prior, a small village between Cambridge and Newmarket, is very close to hooking up its first five properties to a high temperature heat network fuelled by ground source heat pumps sited in a purpose-built energy centre on the outskirts of the village. So, Chipping working group member Martin Hawkins accompanied by his wife Julia, the one who asks the good questions, went to see the scheme for themselves at an Open Evening in early July hosted by Cambridgeshire County Council along with Bouygues (the construction engineers for the project) and Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust.

It was valuable to hear it all, hiccups and wrinkles included, from the engineers on the frontline and to see the impressive technological array of borehole circulation pipework, the core heat pumps, thermal storage capacity, auxiliary air source heat pumps, back-up electric boiler, and the insulated pipework distribution into the village itself.

The system will be connected (via a private electricity supply system) to a new solar farm that Cambridgeshire County Council are constructing, which will supply a significant proportion of the electricity for the new scheme supporting its business case. A considerable amount of resilience has been designed into the energy centre with critical back-up units in place. By their own admission it is over-engineered, but then it’s the first power plant of its kind in the UK. Later versions should come cheaper.

The energy centre sits in the corner of a very large field in which some 100 boreholes form the ground loop system. You could look down a borehole but there’s not a lot to see down a 200m narrow shaft and we saved our eyesight for finding where the Red Lion was in the village afterwards, Swaffham Prior’s answer to the Tilly’s.

So, is their scheme a model for Chipping? The circumstances and demographics are similar – no gas grid, largely oil-fired heating, similar sized population and an eclectic mix of property, olde worlde and new, a village hall, school, and a historic church. The big difference is that Swaffham Prior is flat and Chipping is bumpy. It helps to have a prairie on the edge of the village in which you can bed a hundred boreholes and hide an energy centre. Chipping is not so endowed and a lot of time was spent in the Stage One feasibility study considering the practicalities of such a layout. The Stage Two study, which is underway in Chipping will examine a more fragmented ground source infrastructure.

However, much of the technology and infrastructure will be the same, and the practical problems of accessing individual properties will be the same, so we shall continue to keep a close eye on Swaffham Prior as it builds out its scheme over the next two or three years.

– Martin Hawkins


Posted 5th July 2022