Community Solutions the way forward for sustainable infrastructure

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The UK Green Building Council and the Zero Carbon Hub today publish the final report from the joint task group on Sustainable Community Infrastructure.

The findings point clearly towards a future in which community scale heating, water harvesting, waste disposal and waste re-use all have a key role to play. Infrastructure such as this, when planned and delivered in an integrated way, can offer considerable carbon and cost savings and community benefits.

Key recommendations include:

  1. Local authorities should develop ‘Sustainability Option Plans’, to identify opportunities to deliver joined-up sustainable community infrastructure and work in partnership with the private sector to supply this.
  2. Public sector buildings should be required, where available and viable, to connect to existing or planned community heat networks, to provide an ‘anchor load’ of demand, and large businesses should be encouraged to do the same.
  3. The ‘allowable solutions’ mechanism should be used as a way of providing additional ring fenced capital to support the delivery of heat infrastructure. Government has said that developers will be able to invest in so-called allowable solutions in order to meet the required standard when constructing new zero carbon buildings.

Paul King, chief executive UK-GBC:

“Our homes and buildings cannot be sustainable in isolation. In many cases it makes sense to join up delivery of infrastructure such as energy, water and waste at a community scale. There has been an assumption that consumers are instinctively against things like district heat or waste-to-energy plants, but our research suggests that is no longer the case.

“However, delivering sustainable community infrastructure, particularly district heating, is often still seen as expensive and high risk, which is why we need the public sector to play a key role in providing the anchor loads necessary to instil confidence and make schemes viable.

“It also makes a huge amount of sense to enable local energy infrastructure needs to be recognised as part of the zero carbon ‘allowable solutions’ for new homes and buildings. This would offer the industry a cost-effective means of meeting the needs of new development in ways that will benefit existing communities too.”

David Adams, Director of the Zero Carbon Hub said:

“Community energy systems are an important component of delivering low carbon energy on larger developments. This report reinforces the key role that government can play, both providing demand as a client and enabling provision of heat infrastructure through allowable solutions.

“The recommendations represent a timely contribution to the decentralised energy debate and will help as we develop our understanding of the most cost-effective and carbon-effective way to build zero carbon homes.

“However, the acid test is whether these recommendations will turn community scale energy schemes currently on the drawing board into viable reality.”

Marco Marijewycz, task group member, E.ON said:

“For too long we’ve looked at these problems in isolation. If we are to tackle the triple challenges of affordable, sustainable and secure energy we need to work together and engage communities from day one.

“Radical new ways of partnering need to be established bringing together energy companies and local authorities at the master planning stage along with house-builders and developers. The shared goal must be to look for opportunities to deliver sustainable, low carbon energy solutions at a scale that can serve multiple new domestic and non-domestic developments as well as existing buildings.”

The full report is launched at an event at the Building Centre today, 18th February, at 3pm and will be available online afterwards.


Contact: UKGBC on 0207 291 9948


The report is available on request.

Key features of district heating include:

  • Heat is supplied from a community energy centre to each individual property, via a series of underground pipes in the street
  • Individual properties do not have individual boilers, nor are they connected individually to the gas network
  • Individual properties still have individual heating controls, which can be set for the home overall and also for each room
  • Individual properties are metered so that they are charged on the basis of what they use
  • Heat is available at all times of the day
  • Costs for using heat are typically lower over the long term, but bills might not go down immediately because of the initial cost of the infrastructure
  • The system is very efficient at the community level, with heat transferred between homes, businesses, leisure centres and schools at different times of the day, according to demand (which is often different across the various buildings).

Key features of sustainable community water systems might include:

  • There will be three water supplies into your home. Hot water, 'mains' water (as now) and water for non-drinking uses (specifically for toilet flushing, garden watering and washing machines, etc)
  • Drinking water from the mains supply is purified to the same standards as now. However, water for flushing toilets, washing machines and watering gardens would come from filtered rainwater (which is captured locally and then stored underground)
  • Another possibility is to recycle water that goes down the sink (e.g. from showers), treating this and reusing for flushing toilets, washing machines and watering gardens
  • Individual properties are metered so that they are charged on the basis of how much water they use
  • To reduce the chance of flooding, there will be more permeable paving and green spaces to allow rainfall to be absorbed into the ground when it falls (rather than being channelled directly into rivers and streams which may later overflow)

Key features of community waste schemes include:

  • Waste and recycling is no longer collected from the kerbside or wheelie bins.
  • Waste and recycling chutes, connected to an underground pipe network, are provided very close to where people live (e.g. in buildings, or at street collection points) and – because the system is underground – these collection points are smaller in size than existing containers on the street).
  • Residents must first separate waste in their kitchen into 3 types - recyclable waste (e.g. glass, cans, plastic, card, paper), organic waste (food or garden waste) and non recyclable waste (rubbish).
  • These waste and recycling points are emptied regularly by a vacuum process using the pipe network
  • The waste and recycling can be taken straight to a local energy centre through the pipes, to be used as fuel which can be returned to heat and power residents homes.