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Heat network unleashes potential for renewable energy from river

20230711-144025worcester-riverside

Buildings in Worcester could benefit from an underground heat network powered by the River Severn – subject to the outcome of a proposed study.

A heat network or district heating scheme supplies heat in the form of hot water from a central source to numerous consumers, either business or domestic, via a network of underground pipes. Heat networks can supply just a few buildings, or can be much larger, covering a much wider area, even an entire city.

An initial feasibility study led by the University of Worcester has demonstrated that a scheme connecting the University campuses with a number of key buildings in the city centre was possible. This scheme centred on the use of renewable thermal energy from the River Severn via water source heat pumps.

The proposed detailed project development stage will give the City Council, University of Worcester, and County Council a potential route forward to the development of a district heating scheme which would heat major buildings in and around the river in the City Centre.

There are already over 14,000 heat networks in operation across the UK, supplying heat and hot water to approximately 480,000 customers.

Members of the City Council's Environment Committee are to be asked to back the acceptance of a £230,000 Government grant for the project development study and to allocate £5,000 match funding. Project partners have also committed to providing match funding, with the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership providing £40,000; the University of Worcester £10,000 and Worcestershire County Council £5,000.

Luke Willetts, Deputy CEO of the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and Worcestershire Growth Hub, said: "Producing sustainable energy and heating is one of the major pillars of Worcestershire's Energy Strategy, launched by the Worcestershire LEP and partners. This study into a potential Heat Network outlines the opportunity we have to utilise technology and innovative thinking to help heat Worcester in a more sustainable way and help us achieve our carbon targets.

"The Worcestershire LEP supports the outcome of this study and looks forward to working with partners to facilitate this exciting project for the county."

Professor David Green, the University of Worcester's Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive, said: "Global heating is a reality. Left unchecked the results will be disastrous. We must all work together to minimise emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases whilst improving air quality. This is so important for human health today as well as for the future.

"The energy flowing down the River Severn has much potential for productive human use in an environmentally sustainable way. At the University of Worcester we are very committed to working in productive partnership with the people of the city, county and region together with their democratic representatives, business and community organisations to find practical solutions. We hope that, together, we will be able to harness this energy for the public good."


  • It is estimated that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost-effectively.
  • Heat Networks reduce consumer energy costs and also allow for the possible development of a local energy generation and supply which could be fully or partly publicly owned.
  • In Worcester, public sector buildings are responsible for 8% the city's total carbon emissions, with the commercial sector accounting for a further 7%.
  • Buildings, including the leisure centres and crematorium, currently account for 62% of Worcester City Council's overall carbon footprint. The Guildhall and Museum and Art Gallery account for 4% and 5% respectively.
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