Waste heat from electricity transformers to be used to warm homes across the country

Homes across the country could soon be warmed by the wasted heat captured from electricity transformers in a new bid to help the country become more environmentally friendly.

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

It is estimated that the project will initially reduce heat network carbon emissions by more than 40 per cent when compared to traditional gas-led systems.

The National Grid said one of the main benefits of the technology is that it offers a route to net-zero heat when applied to transformers served by 100 per cent renewable electricity from wind or solar farms.

Households could soon be warmed by the wasted heat captured from electricity transformers

Electricity transformers reduce the high voltage electricity from power plants so that when it comes to homes and businesses it is safe to use. 

The transformers generate huge amounts of heat as a by-product when electricity flows through them. Currently, this heat is vented directly into the atmosphere and wasted. 

Now the National Grid said these transformers have the potential to save millions of tonnes of CO2 every year if rolled out across its network, harnessing waste heat via SSE heat networks to serve towns and cities across the region.

These transformers are primarily located where people live, work and consume energy meaning that they have the potential to be valuable community assets.

Nathan Sanders, managing director at SSE Energy Solutions, said: ‘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.’

The project is underway with trials beginning early next year at National Grid’s Deeside Centre for Innovation so the National Grid said it is too early to say how much it will cost and when it will be used. 

However, it has said it has the potential for around 1,300 transformers in National Grid electricity substations to act as neighbourhood ‘boilers’, piping water heated by the substations into nearby heating networks, then into homes that use SSE’s services. 

The Centre is the first facility in Europe where assets associated with electricity networks can be tested off-grid and is designed as a unique environment for developments and trials of new technologies and practices. 

Alexander Yanushkevich, Deeside innovation manager of National Grid, added: ‘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.’ 

Green: The Government and energy firms are looking for alternative heating solutions

Green: The Government and energy firms are looking for alternative heating solutions

What other heat alternatives are available?

Heat pumps: Heat pumps are one of the most widely talked about low carbon heating alternative to a gas boiler and, for most people, probably the most readily available.

They are an attractive option for longer term planning as they run on mains electricity, which is becoming increasingly decarbonised.

The Government also recently announced ambitious plans to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 and has committed to phasing out natural gas boilers in new build homes by 2025.

For those interested, there are two different types of heat pump systems – air heat pumps and ground heat pumps – which have the potential to reduce carbon emissions from household heating to very close to zero.

Solar photovoltaic panels: Solar panels generate renewable electricity by converting the sun’s energy into electricity. They are an effective measure that will cut electricity bills and your carbon footprint.

There are multiple options available that are suitable for different settings, from panels that can be fitted on a sloping south-facing roof or flat roof, to ground-standing panels or solar tiles.

When considering whether solar photovoltaic panels are suitable for your home, you will need to ask yourself if you have enough space and check with your local authority whether there are any limits or restrictions applicable. 

Solar water heating: Solar water heating systems, or solar thermal systems, use free heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water.

A conventional boiler or immersion heater can be used to make the water hotter, or to provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable.

It works by circulating a liquid through a panel on a roof, or occasionally a wall or some kind of ground-mounted system.

There are two types of panel – a flat panel and the more expensive, but more efficient, evacuated tube.

They absorb heat from the sun, which is used to warm water kept in a cylinder. This system works all year round, but a boiler or immersion heater may be needed as back-up to heat the water further in the winter months.  

To find out more about alternative heating solutions, click here.  

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