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Council cuts carbon

17 February 2012

(l – r) Simon Woodward (Cofely), Sandy Taylor (Birmingham City Council) and Nicki Thomson (awards sponsor Barclays Corporate)

This new series of articles looks at some of the best FM projects in the UK. How do we know they are the best? Because the rigourous judging process in the PFM Awards resulted in these projects being selected the cream of the crop. We start at the top for this month, with last years winner of the Expert Services Award that was also selected as the standout project in the 2011 Awards, and scooped the Overall Winner Award.

Since 2003 Birmingham City Council (BCC), Aston University and Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Cofely have been working in partnership under the name of Birmingham District Energy Company Ltd (BDEC). The role of BDEC is to provide low carbon heat, electricity and chilled water to a range of buildings in Birmingham through the Birmingham District Energy Scheme, which is owned and operated by Cofely District Energy.

The scheme was conceived in response to a long-held vision by BCC and Aston University to develop large-scale energy supplies in the centre of Birmingham. In an innovative procurement scheme, tenders for delivery were issued jointly by BCC and Aston University through OJEU (the Official Journal of the European Union), and Cofely District Energy was selected as the preferred partner.

Following a feasibility investigation in 2003, two schemes were identified – Broad Street and Eastside. The first 25-year energy supply agreement between the partner organisations was signed in 2006 and the Eastside scheme energy services agreement, also for 25 years, was signed in 2008/09.

Due to the scheme’s significant delivery of financial and carbon savings to its consumers, it has grown rapidly since its inception and continues to evolve with the addition of new public and private sector customers and the introduction of low carbon technologies. It is currently saving over 12,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum compared to traditional systems.

The scheme is also being extended into several regeneration areas across the city and, ultimately, all of these ‘sub-schemes’ will be linked together to improve resilience and maximise energy saving opportunities. The most recent additions to the scheme include BCC’s new Woodcock Street 21,000 m2 administration block located in Aston Science Park, which took energy from June 2011. New privately-owned student accommodation in Bagot Street took heat from the recently extended Eastside scheme from July 2011.

Throughout this time Cofely’s expertise in district energy has played a key role in identifying viable opportunities and delivering practical carbon-saving schemes.

Scheme details
This is a tri-generation scheme producing heat, electricity and chilled water – making extensive use of large-scale combined heat and power (CHP) technologies and using conventional boilers for ‘top up’, standby and increased resilience. The electricity from all of the CHP units is used directly via private wire connections into each of the buildings/sites where they are located. Chilled water is generated by absorption chillers, powered by heat from the CHP and boiler plant.

The City’s district energy networks have also been designed to integrate the use of new, emerging technologies such as fuel cells and renewable heat sources into the network, as the overall energy demands and improved efficiencies makes these technologies financially viable.

Financial savings for the schemes are developed on a whole life costing basis and maintained throughout the contract by indexing charges to national fuel prices, the retail price index etc. As the scheme expands, any profits will be shared with the core customers, with 100% transfer of risk to Cofely.

Sustainable growth
Considerable financial, environmental and planning benefits make joining the Birmingham District Energy Network an extremely attractive proposition to building owners, developers and residents.

The reinvigoration of Birmingham City Centre, coupled with the considerable gains associated with a connection to the scheme, have resulted in the rapid expansion of BDEC’s District Energy networks to third party consumers. These third party connections are made possible through a mixture of public and private connection agreements and grants. Contracts are typically for at least 20 years and, crucially, the value of the initial cost saving is maintained, in real terms, over the life of the contract through a transparent system of annual indexation.

Financial savings are typically achieved in two ways. Firstly, capital costs are reduced by around 20% compared to installing a conventional system in the building. Furthermore, there are significant savings on plant room space, so that valuable city centre space can be used for other purposes. With existing buildings there is no need to alter existing heating and cooling systems when switching to the district energy scheme, as temperatures and pressures are the same.

Secondly, the inherent efficiency of the district energy schemes means that most consumers can expect to save 5-10% on their overall energy bills, compared to traditional methods. Many of the users of the scheme are also required to participate in the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC EES), so the energy savings they achieve through using district energy enable them to reduce their expenditure on carbon allowances.

Looking to the future
Looking ahead, future plans include further expansion and interconnection of the hot water networks to supply heating across the entire city centre. This will enable heat to be added at various locations, from alternative sources which can be used across the network. These alternative heat sources could include food waste, general waste and biomass fuels. There is also scope for generating more electrical power at specific points to supply directly to major consumers. The overall target is to increase carbon savings from 12,000 tonnes per annum to 20,000 tonnes by 2015.


The Birmingham District Energy Scheme is characterised by a long-term partnership between four organisations, working towards long-term goals and harnessing the experience and expertise of each. Furthermore, the financial and sustainability benefits enjoyed by the principal partners have also been extended to include other parties in both public and private sectors and the scheme continues to win new customers – a clear indication of its success. 

Appendix 1
 Buildings served by the scheme:

  • The Town Hall
  • The Council House
  • Hyatt Regency Hotel
  • The REP Theatre
  • ICC (International Convention Centre)
  • NIA (National Indoor Arena)
  • Paradise Circus
  • Cambridge & Crescent Towers
  • Aston University Main Campus
  • Lancaster Circus (Birmingham City Council)
  • Birmingham Children’s Hospital
  • HMCS – Magistrates Court
  • Masshouse
  • Woodcock Street Administration (Birmingham City Council)
  • Cosmopolitan Birmingham Student Homes
Appendix 2
Key facts and figures:
  • Capital cost of around £7m investment by Cofely District Energy
  • Over 41,000MWh of heat per annum
  • 35,000MWh of electricity from the CHP plant
  • More than 4,900MWh of chilled water
  • 4km of insulated distribution pipe
  • Electricity supplies synchronised with the National Grid
  • Just 0.5°C temperature loss per km of pipe
  • Hot water flow/return temperatures of approximately 95°C/60°C
  • Savings to local business of >£0.5m p.a.
  • CO2 emissions reduced by 12,000 tonnes per annum

The judges said: “This is an excellent partnership and an outstanding example of joint working between the public and private sectors.”

We were delighted to win both the Expert Services Award and the Overall Award. These awards provide clear independent verification of the success of our unique framework for delivering public private partnerships. They are also testament to the benefits of the partnering philosophy that prevails within Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham District Energy scheme. This has been very much a team effort and much of the credit must go to those people at the ‘sharp end’ in all of the organisations involved, who are turning innovative strategies into practical, carbon-reducing realities.
Simon Woodward
Chief Executive
Cofely District Energy

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