Exclusive: Renewable energy from rivers and lakes could replace gas in homes

A revolutionary system using water-sourced heat pumps is being tested on a new development

A A A

Millions of homes across the UK could be heated using a carbon-free technology that draws energy from rivers and lakes in a revolutionary system that could reduce household bills by 20 per cent.

The Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has described the development as "game changing" in relation to Britain's need for renewable energy against the backdrop of insecurity in Russia, which supplies much of Europe's gas, and the political row at home over soaring fuel bills.

In the first system of its kind in the UK, a heat pump in the Thames will provide hot water for radiators, showers and taps in nearly 150 homes and a 140-room hotel and conference centre in south London, saving 500 tons of carbon emissions from being released every year into the atmosphere.

Mr Davey has asked officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) to draw up a nationwide map showing where renewable heat can be drawn from water to explore the potential of heat pumps. In theory, any body of water, including tidal rivers as well as standing water such as reservoirs and lakes, can be used as long as they are in the open and heated by the Sun. The Government has a target of 4.5 million heat pumps across Britain, although some will be using heat from air as well as water. David MacKay, the chief scientific adviser to Decc and professor of engineering at Cambridge University, has described a combination of heat pumps and low carbon electricity as the future of building heating.

Water-source heat pumps have been used on an individual domestic level and are popular in Japan and Scandinavia, but have not been developed on a larger scale and have not generated sufficiently hot water for everyday use. For the first time, scientists at Mitsubishi and Mike Spenser-Morris, a local developer and director of the Zero Carbon Partnership, have created a system that can generate 45C heat and can be used on a wider scale for mass housing developments.

The development is at Kingston Heights in Richmond Park in south London – a neighbouring constituency to Mr Davey's own – where Tory MP Zac Goldsmith has campaigned for greater use of environmentally friendly energy. The first residents will move in at the end of this month and benefit from the zero-carbon technology, with savings on their heating bills of up to 20 per cent.

The Mitsubishi "Ecodan" pump used at Kingston won the award for best new product or technology at the Climate Week Awards earlier this month and is seen as revolutionising the renewables industry. While the system is thought to have cost about £2.5m, the Government is set to unveil subsidies for domestic renewable heat production, known as "renewable heat incentives"; so in future the price tag could be much lower.

Water is drawn from two metres below the surface of the Thames, where latent heat from the sun is sustained at around 8C to 10C all year round. The water is filtered twice and fed through a pump, where the low-grade heat is harvested by heat exchangers, while the cooler water is pumped back into the river. The heat exchangers transfer the heat to a series of condensers, which boost the 8C to 10C heat to 45C hot water using a process of reverse refrigeration. This is used to heat domestic water piped into nearby homes. A small amount of electricity is used to power the system, but this is supplied by Ecotricity, which makes it technically zero carbon.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Davey said: "This is at a really early stage, but it is showing what is possible. You never have to buy any gas – there are upfront costs but relatively low running costs.

"I think this exemplifies that there are technological answers which will mean our reliance on gas in future decades can be reduced. Here you have over 100 homes, you have a hotel with nearly 200 bedrooms and a conference centre that won't be using gas. It will be using renewable heat from the nearby River Thames. This is a fantastic development. My department is exploring the potential for this sort of water-source heat pump across the UK, so we're going to map the whole of the UK for the potential.

"Obviously, the real concern is getting secure energy. We've seen the crisis in the Ukraine develop, and the dependency in the EU on imported gas is quite significant. There is a real strategic challenge for the UK and the EU about protecting our sources of energy and making our energy sources more secure. This is where energy security and action on climate change come together.

If you've got home-grown energy, then that is really secure. This is the long-term future, about how we reduce our carbon emissions and our dependency on imported fossil fuels."

Mr Davey said he supported George Osborne's decision to freeze the carbon tax on energy-intensive industries. But in a swipe at Tory Eurosceptics, the Energy Secretary said: "If you get engaged, if you work with European colleagues, you can get the British agenda on climate change. People who say we should be out of Europe are treacherous to Britain's future."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect