Comment | How renewable energy benefits us all
By Dr Sharon George, Course Director for MSc Environmental Sustainability and Green Technology. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel in March 2022.
Rising fuel costs are a driving concern for an increasing number of people across Staffordshire wondering how they will be able to afford to heat their homes. In Staffordshire we also have industries that rely heavily on heat with world-leading businesses making pottery, steel and tyres. More recently these sectors have faced huge challenges from world market competition, rising costs of production and transport and ever-tighter profit margins and now manufacturers are under pressure to address climate change by cutting carbon emissions too.
Concerns do not stop at energy prices. Recent world events raise serious concerns about the continuous security of our supply and shines a light on a lack of large-scale energy storage. It also raises important questions around the ethics of buying fossil fuels from countries where human rights might not be respected. This makes the need to source more local, reliable, affordable, and lower-carbon alternatives even more urgent.
Finding suitable alternatives is not easy, but local businesses and universities in Staffordshire are rising to the challenge pioneering low-carbon technology, developing skills, and embracing renewable energy. It turns out Staffordshire has the right conditions and resources to underpin a low-carbon transition and has already been developing low carbon solutions that will provide clean and efficient energy.
Providing sustainable sources of heat is a big challenge. In the UK around half of our final energy consumption is to meet heating demand, with almost 60 per cent for heat in homes. In Staffordshire we are fortunate to have a natural resource right under our feet in the form of geothermal energy. The local council supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership, businesses, colleges, and universities in the area in and around Stoke-on-Trent are all working together to deliver a District Heat Network (DHN), tapping into hot water deep under the city, bringing it 3km up to the surface through "closed loops" to heat exchangers, that extract the energy from the water, before it is safely returned underground to be recharged. This heat can then be used locally in our homes, businesses and infrastructure across Stoke. This natural source of heat will have a massive impact on lowering our reliance on imported gas saving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This is the equivalent of taking more than 2,000 cars off the road.
Another way we are exploring sustainable heating is through low carbon hydrogen. Between 2019 and 2021 a trial injecting 20 per cent (by volume) hydrogen directly into the gas supply feeding 100 homes and 30 faculty buildings was done at Keele University. This project, HyDEPLOY, showed that this could be done safely with no need to for people to change anything in their homes. This trial has paved the way for further even bigger trials so that this can in turn be rolled out nationally. If this were to happen, it would prevent around 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road.
Keele University is continuing to explore the role hydrogen through a new exciting project, HyDEX, that started in January this year. The £5m project, led by Keele University and funded by Research England, brings together the hydrogen expertise and demonstrators across the Midlands unlocking around £127m worth of resource within university institutions linked through the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA). This will accelerate development by identifying what the sector needs, for example skills, and working together across the region to put that in place. The demonstrator at Keele University will showcase how hydrogen can be used to lower emissions in heating, and store energy, especially from renewable sources. For example, we could store excess green energy from the on-campus wind turbines and 12,500 solar panels. This is much more efficient use of the renewable sources meaning we need to use less fossil fuels. This gets us a step closer to affordable, renewable energy that benefits us all.
- Keele strikes Gold in national assessment of education
- Keele’s contributions to local growth and regeneration praised in national framework
- Post Office returns to Keele University campus for students, staff, and the public
- Anatomy services manager shortlisted in “Oscars of Higher Education”
- Research underway at Keele to help guide treatment of rare developmental disease