BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 8 2001-10-29 Chris Underwood (University of Northumbria)

report from minutes of Select Committee


The Chair welcomed Chris Underwood and asked him to commence his presentation following which a question and answer session would ensue.

Chris Underwood commenced by saying he would not in any way be addressing the wisdom or otherwise of burning municipal waste to create energy - he would talk however about options available for heating Byker village using non-waste fuels. He briefly described the historical background and technical capacity of the present plant provision at Byker (which had a total capacity of 11 megawatts), which he regarded now as very old fashioned and inefficient in terms of providing combined heat and power. He suggested that historically district heating was justified in the following ways: -

  1. Cheap low-grade fuel (e.g. peat, coal or wood).
  2. Furnaces were efficient (historically).

which made the heat supply under district heating conditions viable. However, these advantages had over the years subsided for the following reasons: -

  1. The deregulation and privatisation of the energy sector in the UK.
  2. District heating had become "fuel hostages"
  3. Development in high efficiency domestic scale heating equipment.
  4. Continuing improvements in domestic insulation and air tightness standards.
  5. The need for high levels of maintenance and attendance and consequent costs to be passed on to user.
  6. Rankine power cycle (steam powered) was inefficient compared to other more modern plant.
  7. Uncertainty over economics of smaller scale power plant.

He then gave details of comparative heating costs as follows:

1. Actual heating costs at Byker.

1 bedroom �8.00 per week
2 bedroom �9.94 per week
3 bedroom �11.11 per week

2. Available "dual fuel" rates (gas and electricity)

1 bedroom �7.90 per week
2 bedroom �7.80 per week
3 bedroom �13.40 per week

The above appear to demonstrate that the high cost of maintenance and attendance was passed on to the consumer.

Chris Underwood proceeded to describe four/five non-waste options which could provide heat and power at Byker and these were:

1. Support the existing district heating network using conventional fuel powered boilers (coal, dual fuel, gas/oil).

2. Abandon primary network and replace existing local heat stations with local small-scale boiler plant.

3. Throw out the baby with the bath water - have individual appliances in the home.

4. Continue with the existing distribution stations but factor in modern CPH practice including (1) co-generation and (2) embedded generation.

He then offered arguments for and against the above options and concluded that a significant CPH provision was likely to be the only clean option for affordable warmth for the lowest heat and power prices and had the potential to attract investors - supported by dual fuel boilers using interruptible gas power.

A question and answer session ensued.

(Q1) Apart from the initial capital outlay, would heating costs not be cheaper if users of the Byker system were transferred to a number of smaller CHP systems similar to Janet Street? There are numerous schemes elsewhere (Stanhope Street in Newcastle, London, Nottingham, Glasgow, Birmingham etc) which have proven this to be the case. Many received funding from community and city regeneration grants. Do you know whether Byker was eligible for such grants? (Kevin Alderson)

In answer Chris Underwood said that he did not agree with "large was best" for Byker - there were big losses in sending heat around the village (1.5%). As already indicated there was a high cost at Byker of maintenance and attendance. Group heating would reduce the standing costs. He thought there would be a good chance of getting regional development funding.

For the sake of clarity he again explained the difference between combined heat and power and district heating systems.

(Q2) What were the possibilities in Byker (south facing) for the introduction of solar heating? (Phil Capon)

Chris Underwood suggested that solar water heating was not strong in the UK and that it only worked when buildings were specifically designed and built to a solar favourable specification. It was unlikely that Byker would profit from this.

(Q3) There had been talk of the development of a micro generator to sit on top of a domestic boiler to produce electricity. What were your comments? (Phil Capon)

Chris Underwood said that this had been talked of for many years but he understood that it was not yet at a commercially viable level.

(Q4) Could anaerobic digesters be linked to district heating?

Chris Underwood commented that this could happen subject to the necessary segregation of waste.

The Chairman thanked Chris Underwood for his detailed presentation.