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Industry collaboration to turn power grid transformers into heat network ‘boilers’ that can save millions of tonnes of CO2

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By Distributed Energy
01 September 2021

Image courtesy of National Grid.jpg
Capturing waste heat from electricity transformers to generate hot water and space heating for homes and businesses

SSE Energy Solutions and National Grid have today unveiled an innovative new project that could decarbonise heat networks, capturing waste heat from electricity transformers to generate hot water and space heating for homes and businesses.

Image courtesy of National Grid (1).jpg

It is estimated that the heat recovery project will initially reduce heat network carbon emissions by more than 40% versus traditional gas-led systems. Critically, the technology offers a route to net-zero heat when applied to transformers served by 100% renewable electricity from wind or solar farms.

The project has the potential to save millions of tonnes of CO2 every year if rolled out across National Grid’s network of transformers across England and Wales, harnessing this waste heat via SSE heat networks to serve towns and cities across the region.

Nathan Sanders, Managing Director at SSE Energy Solutions, said: “Electric power transformers generate huge amounts of heat as a by-product when electricity flows through them. At the moment, this heat is just vented directly into the atmosphere and wasted.

“By their very nature, electricity transformers are primarily located where people live, work and consume energy meaning that they have the potential to be incredibly valuable community assets if we apply a bit of clever thinking.

“This groundbreaking project aims to capture that waste heat and effectively turn transformers into community ‘boilers’ that serve local heat networks with a low or even zero-carbon alternative to fossil-fuel powered heat sources such as gas boilers.

“We see heat networks as a key part of the UK’s future low carbon energy infrastructure, enabling us to exploit waste heat sources and use these to heat homes and businesses across the country.

“At SSE Energy Solutions we are always looking at innovative ways to improve our operational efficiency, produce value for customers and reduce energy bills. Our partnership with National Grid does exactly that and decarbonising our heat networks through the electrification of heat is just one of the exciting ways we’re driving the transition to net zero.”

Alexander Yanushkevich, Deeside Innovation Manager of National Grid, said: “We are proud to partner with SSE Energy Solutions to develop this innovative technology and support decarbonisation of heat, which is essential to achieve net zero. When the solution is fully developed and tested, we can use it in any of our 350 substations and provide heat to local consumers. Together with SSE, National Grid is a Principal Partner of COP26, and projects like these are a great example of how, taking a whole system approach, the UK can lead the way in helping accelerate decarbonisation.”

SSE Energy Solutions’ heat recovery technology is currently undergoing a proof-of-concept trial at National Grid’s Deeside Centre for Innovation, the first facility in Europe where assets associated with electricity networks can be tested off-grid. The centre is designed as a unique environment for developments and trials of new technologies and practices. Deeside is a key part of National Grid Electricity Transmission’s Innovation programme, a series of projects, informed and developed by stakeholders, innovating to address the challenges of the energy transition.

SSE is a founder member of the Heat Networks Industry Council, an industry-wide group collaborating with the government to unlock the potential of zero carbon heat networks and provide around 20% of the UK’s heat by 2050. HNIC members are committed to creating 20-35,000 new direct jobs and investment of up to £50bn in the UK market, while decarbonising heat networks by 2035. At present, SSE Group operates 18 large heating and cooling networks across the UK, serving over 10,500 customers.

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