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District heating network considered as part of city’s £4 billion development project

12 Apr 2024 3 minute read
Photo by Akela999 from Pixabay

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

A district heating network using heat from a large data storage centre is set to be explored in detail as part of a major redevelopment project.

The data centre is one component of the £4 billion Blue Eden project, which proposes a battery manufacturing centre on land at Swansea docks, waterside homes, an oceanic and climate change research centre, and a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. It is being driven by a company called DST Innovations.

Data centres are facilities which house computing and networking equipment. They generate a lot of heat and consume a lot of electricity, partly to keep the equipment cool. District heating networks send waste heat from industrial buildings along pipes to homes and businesses.

Swansea Council’s cabinet is expected to press ahead next week with a business case to pipe heat from the planned data centre to buildings in SA1, Swansea University’s Fabian Way campus, and buildings on Oystermouth Road such as the Civic Centre, Swansea prison and Swansea Museum.

Cheap energy

This would be low-carbon and potentially cheap energy. The council has a target of being a “net zero” carbon authority by 2030, and wants Swansea to be a net zero city 20 years after that.

Speaking ahead of the April 18 cabinet meeting, council leader Rob Stewart said: “Working closely alongside DST Innovations and their partners, we’ve identified the opportunity for a low carbon heating network linked to the overall development that would heat many of Swansea’s major buildings in SA1 and the city centre.

“We’re all aware of the impact of climate change and the importance of taking steps to reduce its effects on us and future generations.”

Feasibility study

The report before cabinet said an earlier UK Government-funded feasibility study had concluded that there was a “significant opportunity” to create a district heating network in Swansea. The council has now been awarded £218,300 by Westminster to develop a business case.

Bridgend-based DST Innovations is to contribute £66,700. The business case will explore ways of delivering the network and what the key constraints are, evaluate the earlier analysis, and undertake a consumer campaign. Council officers, with support from district heat network specialists, will draw up the document.

It’s not the first time district heating has been considered in Swansea. In 2011 a Swedish firm said the city would benefit from such a system, with heat from large big woodchip burners being piped to buildings such as the Civic Centre, the National Waterfront Museum, and potentially Singleton Hospital and the Wales National Pool, Sketty. Six years later it was suggested that a woodchip burner at the LC, which it turned out had never been switched on, could form part of a district heating network.

Meanwhile, the huge amount of power needed to run data centres has come under increasing scrutiny. But there are opportunities to use the heat they emit. Data centres help power homes in Denmark and Sweden, and a small data centre the size of a washing machine heats a public swimming pool in Exmouth, Devon.

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