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Oxfordshire heat electrification project awarded £10m UKRI funding

Collaboration involving Kensa Contracting and Oxford City Council that seeks to offer low carbon energy for heating and transport is one of four projects to get government funds

A £41m ‘Energy Superhub’ will be constructed in Oxford in order to support lower carbon heating and transportation through a smarter approach to electricity management.

The project is being overseen by a consortium of groups including Oxford City Council, Kensa Contracting, the University of Oxford, Pivot Power and redT energy. It will a focus on making use of energy storage technologies and machine learning to help power a network of heat pumps and electric vehicles.

The superhub is one of four smart energy projects to receive over £100m in government funding designed to look at how heating and vehicles can be powered in a more sustainable and cost-effective way in the longer-term.Developers of the Oxford superhub project have said that the funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will speed up implementation of the new scheme that will introduce “grid-scale energy storage” across the city to help it become a zero-carbon region.

Part of the strategy will also include introducing a commercial hybrid energy storage system that will be the largest of its kind in the world by its scheduled launch in 2020.

Kensa Contracting will by 2021 have installed 300 ground source heat pumps that will be used under the project. Developers have said this will allow for greater electrification of heat provision in the city with energy storage group redT energy providing vanadium flow battery technology that can hold and distribute energy when required.

Findings from the project will then be analysed by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and Department of Engineering Science to consider where the project may be scaled up or copied around the UK.

A key focus of the project will be to provide a practical demonstration of how different technologies can be introduced into a single system to create a lower carbon alternative for a range of power needs.

This will include combining energy storage with machine learning and innovative software to manage power demand and reduce pressures on the National Grid.

A total of 20,000 tonnes of CO2 are expected to be saved annually from introducing the superhub with the UKRI providing around £10m of the total project cost, according to the project’s developers. CO2 reductions of 44,000 tonnes are anticipated by 2032 under the project.

Oxford City Councillor Tom Hayes said that the superhub was being introduced to create a viable low carbon energy system in response to a range of local concerns relating to climate change and fuel poverty.

“Uniquely, this £41m once-in-a-generation downpayment on Oxford will move the council closer to achieving this vision. Leading businesses are investing in Oxford because they recognise that we’re already trialling new technologies exactly like Energy Superhub Oxford.”

Heat pump implications

Kensa Contracting managing director Dr Matthew Trewhella said the use of ground source heat pumps in the project also showed the significant carbon savings and cost benefits that can be realised with electric heating as part of a wider energy management system

He added, “The rapid decarbonisation of the electricity grid over the last five years has added more momentum in the push towards the electrification of heat.”

“There have been concerns expressed that shifting load from fossil fuels such as oil, LPG and ultimately mains gas will unduly increase the strain on the electricity grid beyond its capacity – particularly at peak times. By using smart controls that learn the occupant’s preferences and building heat physics, it will be possible to avoid the peaks of grid strain and shift load to the times when the grid can best accommodate it.”

Dr Trewhella said the combination of smarter technologies such as AI with battery storage could help ensure that electric heating was not a strain but rather a contributor to energy in the grid.

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