City Parks Have Potential to Heat 50,000 Homes Using Heat Pumps

The many parks and playing fields of Glasgow have long been the pride of the city but now scientists believe they could be its power too.

Calculations by engineers indicate that having heat pumps under these green spaces could warm up to 49,000 homes.

Being greener than most cities, Glasgow has been identified as the local authority area in Scotland with highest untapped capacity for ground source energy.

It has been revealed that Glasgow which is keen to be Scotland’s first city to achieve zero net carbon is purposefully considering such technology.

A report recently created as part of the Powering Parks project, by climate charity Possible, Hackney Council and Scene, a social enterprise is exploring the potential benefits of installing heat pumps under green spaces.

According to this new report putting heat pumps under parks and public green spaces could provide warmth for up to 5 million homes. If this potential was harnessed, 30 gigawatts equivalent to 10% of the country’s total peak heat demand could be generated as well as UK carbon emissions being cut by 8 million tonnes each year more than 2% of UK emissions.

The study finds that using a heat pump would also avoid the contribution to local air pollution that a new gas boiler would make.

Saughton Park in Edinburgh already has heat pump technology, which works like a fridge in reverse to generate warmth from the difference in two temperatures.

The report calculates that Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and the capital all have substantial ground source heat potential.

Climate charity, Possible said that Glasgow alone could use its parks and other green spaces to meet 297 megawatts of peak heat demand, cutting UK carbon emissions by 83,000 tonnes each year. The study looks at how installing heat pumps under public green spaces could help to tackle climate change, improve air quality as well as generate income for councils and park authorities to re-invest locally.

The report also revealed that the equivalent of five million homes could be warmed with clean heat by putting heat pumps under parks and public green spaces in the whole of the UK.

According to the report Birmingham City Council is the local authority with the greatest ground source heat potential from public green spaces in the UK. The London Borough of Richmond came first when considering the potential from parks only.

To prove the model works a heat pump will be trialled in Hackney and any learnings will be shared with other local authorities in the UK.  Climate change charity 10:10 Climate Action is working with Hackney Council and energy consultants Scene to explore whether ground source and water-based heat pumps in parks and green spaces could be used to generate sustainable energy for heating nearby buildings, offering stable, low risk revenue in the process.

The Powering Parks project could see buildings being able to switch from using fossil fuels and save money or generate income for the council. Previously an internationally acclaimed Solar Schools project run by 10:10 Climate Action helped schools boost budgets, built relationships with the community and cut carbon emissions by raising money to install solar panels. They now hope to see success with parks and heat pumps.  A similar scheme is already operating in Edinburgh.

Neil Jones, project manager at Possible, said:

“Heating is a carbon bomb in the UK. One-third of all UK greenhouse gas emissions comes from heating and yet it’s often overlooked. But, in order to effectively tackle the climate crisis, finding ways to warm our homes and buildings with low carbon heat must be a priority. What’s so exciting about this report is that it not only offers a way to kick-start a society built on clean heat, it offers both economic and health benefits at the same time. It’s a win-win-win.”

Deputy Mayor of Hackney, Cllr Feryal Demirci, said:

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to look at ways of making our parks and buildings more sustainable and for us to continue to invest in our beautiful parks and green spaces for our residents to enjoy.”

Alice Casey, Head of New Operating Models at Nesta, said:

“Our aim is to help parks innovate to ensure they can sustain and develop as free, open and truly valued community spaces for the future. Parks are wonderful, free public resources, that communities, treasure; particularly in urban environments. They support activity, health and wellbeing, as well as play, socialising and connection to nature. Rethinking Parks will demonstrate ways to ensure that our parks will continue to be protected and loved by communities everywhere for generations to come.”

The project is funded by the Rethinking Parks programme from global innovation foundation Nesta. The first phase will consider whether the scheme is feasible. If successful, the project will share learning with other parks authorities to allow them to roll out similar programmes.

Max Wakefield, lead campaigner at 10:10 Climate Action, said:

“While this scorching summer has seen the public flood into the UK’s parks, it’s one of the clearest signs yet that our climate is changing fast. To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to rapidly cut carbon and that means stopping burning gas and oil to heat our buildings. Heat pumps are one way to do that and what’s so exciting about this project is the possibility of tackling climate change and helping protect the green spaces all of us value so much at the same time.”

Though Scotland is one of the countries in the EU with the highest proportion of renewables in its electricity supply it also has the least renewable heating, still heavily reliant on gas mostly with individual boilers.

Louise Waters, senior consultant at Scene, said:

“Parks are unique in their ability to cultivate a space where all sections of society mix. So, it’s incredibly exciting to be able to demonstrate their role in creating climate solutions. We’ve shown how previously untapped heat, stored in the ground below lawns and playing fields and replenished by nature, provides a huge part of the solution for low-carbon heat for our buildings, made possible through the wonder of heat pumps.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said:

“De-carbonising Glasgow’s heating systems has to be an essential part of the city’s efforts to become carbon neutral by 2030. We are currently investigating a wide range of options that will have the potential to minimise the carbon emissions produced by heating the city. Glasgow has thousands of hectares of parks and open spaces and ground-source heating networks are currently part of our considerations.”

Saughton Park is going green after installing a £500,000 turbine on a weir on the Water of Leith. It also has two ground-source heat pumps.

Shona Nelson, chairwoman of the Friends of Saughton Park, said:

“The micro-hydro is the last piece of the jigsaw in the re-development of Saughton Park and we think it will really put the park on the map.”

The scheme was part of a ParkPower project being developed by GreenSpace Scotland, a charitable social enterprise.

The park is lit using the hydro power plant while its buildings are heated from the ground.

Importantly, Ground, air and water sourced heat pumps are all being recognised as a safe and carbon-free alternative to Scotland’s gas central heating systems.

On the whole engineers prefer water-sourced systems. An example of this is the major heat pump district heating system being built in Clydebank, at the old John Brown shipyard.

Another scheme in Orkney is heating public buildings using the sea. The heat pumps used for the Warehouse buildings in Stromness cost half the price of conventional fossil fuel boilers and have half the carbon footprint.

In Orkney public buildings are being heated using the sea. This scheme sees heat pumps being used for the Warehouse buildings in Stromness which costs half the price of conventional fossil fuel boilers and has half the carbon footprint.

Well designed, installed and operated heat pumps can be very energy efficient. Over time, as grid electricity is increasingly sourced from renewables, the electricity used by heat pumps will also become lower carbon.

Find out more about heat pumps here.