I welcome the news that 500 Islington households are to benefit from a £3.9M scheme to harvest waste heat from the Northern Line, currently being vented into an air shaft at the corner of Central Street and City Road.
In fact, I have been quietly nudging this scheme – and others – along for some years, and the story is worth re-telling now.
It has always struck me as scandalous that heat from the underground is vented to air at a point – the site of a now closed City Road underground station – just yards away from social housing where people are living in fuel poverty.
In 2006 I wrote to Council officers about this and they told me that some consultants pitching to them for work from the Council had previously done a report for London Underground Ltd (LUL) drawing attention to these possibilities, but LUL had apparently shown no interest.
I later passed this on to a student journalist, who approached LUL for comment – and even made a Freedom of Information request, to which LUL replied that they had no record of any report dealing with the issue. Case closed! I nevertheless encouraged officers to persevere, as it seems they have, to their great credit. The part- explanation I received later was that LUL has been trying for years to get rid of the huge heat generated by its trains (and third-rail electricity supply which converts a lot of electricity, wastefully, to heat because they are made of steel rather than copper as on the DLR). It’s just that the idea of doing anything useful with that heat really hadn’t occurred to them and in any case the project would belong to a different department.
Similarly, I identified several other sources of waste heat, some of them within a few hundred yards of the same street corner. These were:
1. the canal, which which is heated up by being used to cool a 25kV electricity cable running underneath the towpath;
2. the huge EDF transformers along the City Road basin;
3. a server farm – a huge repository of computers and communications equipment – now occupying the former Gordon’s Gin distillery at the corner of Moreland St and Goswell Road, run by Level 3 Communications. Its roofline is covered in heat exchangers wastefully blasting the heat generated by its operations over Peregrine House, a 20-storey block of council housing, only yards away;
4. groundwater: huge reserves of water sit in a chalk aquifer under Islington, which (at 12 degrees Centigrade) could be used for air conditioning (as practiced by Sadlers Wells and the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell) and thus save CO2 and heat emissions in the area;
5. abandoned underground tunnels of various sorts -eg MailRail, the former Royal Mail underground trains between Liverpool St and Paddington – disused since 2003.
Officers were a bit downbeat about using the tunnels and the air shafts rather than the stations themselves, but now, it seems, with some money from here and there, including the EU, the penny has finally dropped. The EDF transformers are also in the frame.
In 2011 I wrote to the Chief Executive of Level 3 Communications about the prospect of re-using their waste heat – and received no reply. I am therefore writing back to them to urge them to take an interest in this.
Other possibilities in Islington include the borough’s seven underground stations themselves and other shafts like the Victoria Line ventilation shaft in Gibson Square. Even if this shaft is not near a heat grid, surely the heat could even be converted to electricity, for example via a Stirling engine.
So – a big pat on the back for Islington’s environment officers for persevering with something that once looked like a crackpot scheme that no-one could be bothered with. I will now look around for more!