If the planning authorities and UKCMRI are determined to run rough-shod over the need for housing and community facilities in Somers Town, perhaps they could do a little more than offer as scant recompense juice bars and the nebulous suggestion of a ‘healthy living centre’. Could the UKCMRI building be used to heat homes in Somers Town (and no, I don’t just mean hot air!)?
The new building will need large amounts of energy to run its heating and cooling systems and it’s likely that, over the course of a year, it will need significantly more cooling than heating. That’s because insulation standards are fairly high these days, and it’s likely to have a lot of computing equipment inside it, generating heat all year round, as well as those 1,500 workers.
They’ve mentioned a gas-fired combined heat and power system, and a few solar panels, as a nod towards regulations which expect new buildings to generate at least 10% of their energy using on-site renewables, but, from what we’ve heard so far, it sounds as if all that heat will be going to waste, out through air conditioning units on the roof.
Instead, the UKCMRI and the council should get together to install an underground thermal energy system, storing the heat underground beneath the Purchese St Open Space and using it to feed a new district heating scheme for flats in the area. These systems have been used in Scandinavia for years, and are a good way of minimising energy use and carbon emissions.
A similar system was recently installed in Norwich, where the psychiatric hospital is now heated using ground source heat pumps, as part of the NHS’s aim to make all its buildings zero carbon by 2018. The heat is stored under the carpark during the summer, and extracted again in winter to heat the hospital wards.
It’s a bit of a job to decide whether this could really work, and we’d need to understand the heating and cooling of the building better to be sure, but it’s certainly worth a look. Gas prices are going to increase over the coming years, and we will need to look at every opportunity we have to generate heat and power in a sustainable way. It’s always easier to fit systems like this when a new building goes up, rather than later. This is the biggest construction project likely to take place in Somers Town for years (we hope) so it’s an opportunity worth looking at.
More on the UKCRMI development.