Lancashire could see the creation of “heat networks” in an attempt to cut carbon emissions and reduce wasted energy.
The specialist distribution systems are one of the key priorities identified in a county-wide energy strategy, commissioned by the area’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Each individual network - which could extend across wide areas - is fuelled by a centrally-located source of power. The resultant heat is then transferred to the buildings which require it, via pipes carrying hot water. There is no need for boilers in each property - although individual buildings would retain the ability to control temperatures.
The aim would ultimately be for low carbon sources to power the networks - but, whatever their source, they are thought to have the capacity to reduce carbon emissions by making use of otherwise wasted heat from industry.
A report to be presented to an LEP committee this week states that Lancashire has so far not had as much “focus” on the potential of heat networks as other parts of the country - hence the failure to identify any viable schemes.
In 2017, a potential network in North West Preston was rejected on financial grounds. However, a scheme focused on central Preston and the University of Central Lancashire is under consideration- and could bid for a share of a £320m government fund to develop heat networks.
The report also highlights the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in Lancashire’s current energy landscape. Its authors - energy consultancy Encraft - conclude that the county has the potential to develop test sites for flexible ‘smart grids’ to help overcome some of the existing limitations on power choice in the area, such as the lack of access to the gas grid in the Forest of Bowland.
Lancashire is also found to be well placed to enhance its existing off-shore wind power generation, with a centre of industry expertise having been developed at Blackpool and The Fylde College.
Meanwhile, on-shore wind is thought to have even greater untapped potential. In Rossendale, a district which already has one of the largest wind farms in the country, the area is still operating at just a fifth of its maximum power generation from that source.
Further attempts to increase energy efficiency are also recommended, but it is feared that the age and design of many properties will make them “hard to treat”. An obligation on energy companies to help fund schemes often leaves a shortfall in costs which cannot be afforded by householders in fuel poverty, the report says.
More than 77,000 - or 12.2 percent - of Lancashire households are classed as being in fuel poverty - greater than the North West and England averages.
Other potential energy problems for Lancashire include a drain on the local grid as take-up of electric vehicles increases and “no preference” amongst consumers for low carbon energy options if they come at the same or a higher cost as traditional power sources.
LEPs throughout England were each given £40,000 to produce an energy strategy, after the government declared that moving to a low carbon economy is “a shared responsibility across the country”.