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Gateshead District Energy Centre

March 3, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Philip Bratby



Unlike conventional power stations, Gateshead’s District Energy Centre is capable of capturing waste heat created during the energy generation process and recycling it to keep buildings nearby warm. In addition the network has been designed to ensure the Energy Centre will be able to meet all the energy needs of future developments planned for Gateshead town centre, underpinning the redevelopment of the Baltic Business Quarter, plus the Gateshead Quays area and major housing developments.

The energy centre uses a pair of 2MW gas-powered combined heat and power (CHP) plants to generate enough electricity to power 5,000 homes, with the waste heat from the engines being recovered to provide hot water for heating.

Affordable energy and clean growth is a key pillar of the government’s Industrial Strategy green paper, with a clear commitment to ensure the supply of secure, affordable and clean energy for businesses and households across the UK.



CHP plants seem to be flavour of the day at the moment. I agree there is a certain amount of sense in recycling waste heat, as long as it can be done economically. There is obviously a trade off between the advantages of the CHP process, and lost heat and capital costs.

There is, in any event, nothing new in this. We were doing this at British Steel in the 1970s, and no doubt long before.

However, it is a bit of a stretch calling it low carbon, no matter for efficient the process.

Getting back to the question of costs, CHP projects already awarded CfDs have been given a guaranteed, index linked price of £84.23. This would suggest that they would not be economical without such subsidies.

Biomass CHPs earn even greater subsidies. The 300MW project at Teeside, due to open in 2018, will be paid £132.25/MWh. It will burn wood and will supply heating to nearby companies.


There is another issue however. For CHPs to make any sense, they obviously need to be near to potential customers, whether domestic or commercial. This therefore means that they are likely to be built in the middle of towns.

Gas may be clean burning in comparison to coal, but it is not totally free of harmful substances.




If they were simply CCGT plants, would we even dream of building them near centres of population?

  1. Derek Buxton permalink
    March 3, 2017 2:28 pm

    I recall when I was a lad having a power station just down the road, just across the river Don. Then some idiot got the idea that big is best. What he forgot of course was that they had to be built well away from the users and therefore had long supply lines to customers. Now we have wood burners, giving off CO2 more that the gas fired ones would. I am always puzzled by the contradictory policies put up by those who should have more sense! But then, nearly all conservative MPs voted in favour of the Climate Change Act……WHY!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 4, 2017 1:42 pm

      Labour and LibDems don’t have a monopoly on stupidity. Tories can be just as stupid which is possibly more damaging as the masses think they are less so. But then the masses have yet to realise the Tories have hardly any conservatives in their ranks anyway. Call Me Dave’s plan was to get rid of them and he has succeeded.

  2. March 3, 2017 2:58 pm

    I didn’t realise that the EIA classified CO2 as a pollutant. I thought it was only the EPA that was daft enough to classify a gas that is a natural part of the atmosphere and is vital for all plant (and thus animal) life as a pollutant.

  3. Peter MacFarlane permalink
    March 3, 2017 3:25 pm

    …low-cost energy for up to 350 homes and businesses… there’s those weasel words “up to ” again. Zero is included in the set of “up to”, does anyone notice that?

    And then further down the same press release, suddenly it’s 5000 homes. Well, which is it, subsidy-farmers?

    Do they think people don’t read these things?

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      March 3, 2017 3:31 pm

      Unfortunately a lot of people and all politicians only read the headline and half the first paragraph.

  4. Malcolm Bell permalink
    March 3, 2017 3:33 pm

    There was a CCGT plant to supply the army base at Aldershot back in the war. The point was not so much for efficiency as to prevent clouds of steam giving the Germans an easy landmark.

    I think (not sure) it was closed in the seventies. No doubt I will be corrected.

  5. Dave Ward permalink
    March 3, 2017 3:51 pm

    They haven’t mentioned that in order to actually make use of the waste heat a network of pipes will have to be installed and connected to each of the 350 properties. The same was being planned for the straw burning Generation Park in Norwich. I went to the public meeting and enquired about the practicalities of doing this. The chap from EON I spoke to explained that they would bury highly insulated pipes (in many cases using thrust boring), and then have individual take-offs at each house. The existing boilers would either be replaced (or left in situ) and a heat exchanger plate fitted. This work will involve disruption to roads and pavements, as well as the risk of damage to other utilities, and is going to cost a LOT of money. And short of changing the law, I can’t see any requirement for home owners to connect up to the system. CHP is fine in theory, but should only be considered in new build situations where it can be incorporated from the start.

  6. John permalink
    March 3, 2017 3:55 pm

    These schemes have been around for years; google District Heating

    What they often fail on is because they are centralised no one looks after them. If they fail everyone is off.
    Distributed schemes were always the way ahead, not centralised
    People tend to look after them, for obvious reasons

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 4, 2017 1:46 pm

      Reading planning decisions in the City and Westminster there is usually – if not actually always – a requirement for buildings to be able to connect to a district heating system. I don’t know if this actually adds any significant cost to the schemes. Having seen one development being required to pay £4.5m under section 106 for affordable housing, I doubt it. And no, if you are interested, there are no planned district heating systems.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        March 4, 2017 2:07 pm

        “To be able to connect to a district heating system”

        Gerry – the cynic in me suggests all that is needed to meet this requirement is for the main (existing) boiler connections to have tees with (capped) isolating valves fitted. If district heating becomes available – just connect to those two valves, and isolate the boiler. Then if (or when) the district system goes down, 5 minutes work and you can fire up your old boiler! The sensible owner would swap back over and run the boiler for a few hours every so often, just to ensure it’s working properly…

  7. AlecM permalink
    March 3, 2017 4:11 pm

    A gas-fired CHP condensing boiler/metal-ceramic fuel cell in each house is the obvious answer. The design is a simple adaptation of existing condensing gas boilers:

    10 million devices would deliver 10 GW of electricity, a direct replacement of present gas boilers. They would provide about 55% efficiency CH4 to electrons, the same as a CCGT, plus recover much of the ‘waste heat’ via the condenser into hot water.

    In the daytime they would be the standby system for windmills, as fast turn on time as hydro. They can also work off grid should there be a local or national power cut.

    • AlecM permalink
      March 3, 2017 4:12 pm

      PS the capital cost of the fuel cell is about the same as a nuclear plant.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 4, 2017 1:50 pm

      The problem here is the usual one – grid stability. With no rotating element these systems won’t help keep the grid frequency within the narrow band needed to prevent the grid falling over. Having a DC grid would solve that but at what cost? After all, CO2 emissions are not a problem so why waste money reducing them?

  8. Jack Broughton permalink
    March 3, 2017 5:01 pm

    CHP (Combined heat and power) is well established in many industries, e.g. steel as Paul notes in the article. At the district heating scale it has rarely been applied in the UK, Nottingham and Sheffield are the biggest that I know of. This has been based firmly on economics because the heating is only used a few months per year but is very expensive to install. There was a major report into this many years ago trying to generate interest in more schemes, citing overseas schemes that are very successful.

    The UK has far less flat-dwelling than the countries where district heating is widespread and generally much milder, shorter winters. Supplying hot water in the summer is a very inefficient process for a district heating plant, the line-losses often exceed the heat supply.

    The traditional justification for district heating was to remove fuel burn from the residential areas, especially when fuels such as coal were burned.

  9. March 3, 2017 6:42 pm

    “enough electricity to power 5000 homes” strikes again. When will the media dump this false information travesty? and do their homework. They are a lazy lot.

    As for CHP: Technically brilliant economically specific. Otherwise a dead duck.
    Politicians should NOT get involved. They should merely enable others to decide in the absence of subsidy.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      March 4, 2017 2:16 pm

      “enough electricity to power 5000 homes” strikes again. When will the media dump this false information travesty?”

      To be fair, this claim is perfectly valid when a conventional generator is concerned. A 2MW gas turbine will provide that power output 24/7/365 except when shut down, during maintenance or breakdowns – exactly the same as any other conventional generator. It’s only when the media try to justify wind turbines and/or solar those claims are misleading.

  10. March 3, 2017 6:54 pm

    In 2005 the Government had an Ahlstrom gas turbine CHP system installed in the bowels of the MOD building which is capable of producing 4.7MW of electricity and 9MW of heat. Normal fuel is gas with the ability to run on 35 sec oil in the event of supply interruptions.

    The system, now operated by a subsidiary of French energy group GDF SUEZ, supplies electricity to 18 government departments in Whitehall, including DECC, Downing Street and the Treasury, with heat being circulated through a 12km network of insulated piping to keep our lords and masters nice and warm.

    Switching on the system in 2005 the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, John Healey MP, said:

    “This is the largest energy-saving combined heat and power plant in the Government estate which not only provides heat and light across Whitehall, but also reduces carbon emissions and saves money.

    “CHP is making a key contribution to the Government’s drive to promote energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions and the very fact that Whitehall uses such a system reflects the Government’s continuing commitment to tackling climate change.” (Government press release, 25 Oct 2005.)

    In the 1980s government was keen on following the Danish example of integrated CHP plants which generated reliable electricity from gas or biomass while improving their thermal efficiency by using otherwise wasted heat to provide district heating.

    By 1996 the first government strategy document on CHP was published. In June 2000 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report ‘Energy – The Changing Climate’, was published. This set us on the path to a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which was, in 2008, to become the 80% commitment which signalled the demise of CHP.

    In 2002, Environment Minister Michael Meacher announced the Government’s commitment to CHP and introduced changes to the Climate Change Levy to support the technology. Later that same year, Mr Meacher was telling MPs that his department was developing a CHP Strategy, which would set out the measures needed to achieve a target of at least 10GW of “good quality” CHP by 2010.

    In 2007, Defra published ‘Analysis of the UK potential for Combined Heat and Power’, which foresaw a potential 16GW of electrical genating capacity by 2015 – nearly a quarter of Britain’s peak demand – with a further potential for 21.5GW of district heating.

    2008 Climate Change Act

    This potential was never realised. Between the second and third reading of the 2008 Climate Change Act, the 60% cut in CO2 emissions was jacked up to 80%, and made into a statutory requirement. This effectively killed large-scale CHP: only very low carbon renewables, nuclear and CCS-abated coal and gas could meet the threshold.

    Ironically, organisations such as Greenpeace were voluble in their support of Danish-style CHP until 2008, telling us that there could be up to 16GW more industrial CHP, the equivalent of 8 nuclear power stations. Within a few years Greenpeace, as well as occupying coal plants and protesting against nuclear, were shutting down the HQ of Centrica, owner of British Gas, in protest at the UK’s use of gas.

    Anyway, it is comforting to know that Whitehall will not be affected if electricity supplies go down due to lack of reliable generating capacity this winter.


    Whitehall CHP, Press Release 25 October 2005 (PDF file).
    ‘Analysis of the UK potential for Combined Heat and Power’, Defra, October 2007 (PDF file).

  11. AndyG55 permalink
    March 4, 2017 1:11 am

    Where are the wood pellets for this coming from ?

    • Derek Buxton permalink
      March 4, 2017 11:39 am

      As far away as possible, just like the Drax fiasco!

  12. Messenger permalink
    March 4, 2017 11:24 am

    I remember your comments in 2015 on the St Andrews University project in a disused paper mill,

    heating water with wood pellets apparently sourced from “within a 50 mile radius” and then pumping the water 4 miles along the road to the university buildings. The project has now been built and fired up, with a hoarding at the edge of town announcing the saving of 6000 tons of carbon (?annually) , – their declared aim being to be the “first carbon neutral university”


    • Athelstan permalink
      March 4, 2017 3:35 pm

      Wood chips for brains.

      “Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind that involves a “loss of contact with reality”. People experiencing psychosis may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder. Depending on its severity, this may be accompanied by unusual or bizarre behavior, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out daily life activities.”

      yup, the green/eco advocacy, green psychosis more like.

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