Heat networks bottleneck

Substandard training for heat network engineering in the UK is stopping the burgeoning sector from realising its potential, says Ian Manders.

Heat networks bottleneck
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 The Government has serious ambitions for district heating, or heat networks as it calls them. In fact it has two billion pounds worth of ambition, which is the amount of investment it wants over the decade to construct over 200 schemes being sponsored by local authorities and property developers. That’s enough heat for 400,000 homes and probably a trebling of the current heat network capacity that has been built up over decades. Will there be enough people with the right skills and experience to build design, build and operate the new heat networks? Are we training enough people to fill the gaps?

First some good news: the business of digging trenches and laying pipe is similar whether they are gas, potable water or insulated for hot water. Specialist skills are required for joining steel and foam insulated heat network pipes and the major manufacturers, mostly based on the continent, do provide training for welders from British contractors.

However, moving back up the supply chain shows the absence of training. Poor design and specification is where the fundamental and expensive mistakes happen, such as oversizing and overcapacity of heat generating plant.  At present, there is an absence of university and college courses for mechanical engineers beyond the basic “introduction to district heating” level. The two day CIBSE course for the Heat Network Code of Practice is to gain knowledge of the Code, not of the engineering.

This lack of formal training in the UK is an area that the associations representing the district heating sector could usefully take action. The UK department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should also take notice of the possible bottleneck and the actions required to remedy this situation could be set out in the forthcoming Heat Policy being developed by DECC.


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