London’s “lost” rivers could yield heating and cooling for landmark buildings

The energy transition requires us to explore all energy options. In yesteryear, London had many rivers throughout the city. Many of the rivers now run in covered channels dating from the Georgian and Victorian periods. Mark Bridge writes in The Times about efforts to now use them for heating and cooling.

Underground river could heat Palace

London’s “lost” rivers could yield clean energy for landmark buildings such as Buckingham Palace, experts say.

Environmental groups claim that heat pumps could extract energy from rivers such as the Tyburn and Fleet that now run underground to provide the heating needs of certain big buildings.

In the report the groups 10:10 and Scene identify five sites on different rivers, including the palace, a secondary school, a town hall, a group of housing estates and a lido, where the technology would be viable. These schemes could be a blueprint for similar initiatives in other UK cities.

The groups are in talks with the palace’s consultants and councils to consider feasibility in more detail.

Scores of tributaries of the Thames and River Lea previously flowed through London, powering mills and enabling fishing and river transport. By the 18th century many had degenerated into sewers and in 1728 the poet Alexander Pope described the Fleet rolling its “large tribute of dead dogs: to Old Father Thames. The rivers now run in covered channels dating from the Georgian and Victorian periods.

The environmentalists say that water-source heat pumps could extract and amplify the warmth in the rivers to heat nearby buildings in the colder months. Using heat-exchange technology it could provide cooling in summer. The technology is already used in Stuttgart, where the heating and cooling needs of the Baden-Wurttemberg state ministry are supplied by the underground River Nesenbach.

The heat pumps and related infrastructure to supply a large civic building or housing development would cost about £400,000 and the pipework of old buildings would need to be upgraded at significant cost.

Experts say the technology can reduce a building’s total heating costs and carbon emissions by more than a quarter during the system’s lifetime.

Richard Cochrane, a chartered engineer and energy expert at Exeter University, said the findings were credible and showed a good use of the technology. “Using these rivers removes the cost of boring down for ground source heat pumps,” he said. “The technology has improved significantly in the past few years and it’s a way to reduce emissions that would definitely pay for itself.”

A report from the Greater London Authority concluded that water-source heat pumps could meet 4.8 per cent of London’s heat demand, with sewer heat offering another 6.7 per cent.

Leo Murray of 10:10 said: “Buckingham Palace have said they want to explore using heat pumps . . . We are now in touch with their consultants, WSP, to set up a meeting with them and the Royal Household to talk about the resource we have identified.”

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