E.ON energy centre: A view behind closed doors

PUBLISHED: 10:59 08 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:02 08 November 2013

Mark Simpson at the E.ON centre in Cranbrook. Photo by Terry Ife ref mhc 7521-42-13TI

Mark Simpson at the E.ON centre in Cranbrook. Photo by Terry Ife ref mhc 7521-42-13TI

Archant

The Herald is taken on an exclusive tour of the new energy centre.

As it sits, dressed in the Devon sunlight, the new 30,000 square foot E.ON energy centre sparkles and waits.

Equipped with the responsibility of powering thousands of houses and the 1.4million square foot Skypark, the £3million building is part of the largest district heating scheme outside London.

The centre opened its doors to Herald reporter Callum Lawton and photographer Terry Ife, allowing an exclusive peek into Cranbrook’s warm and toasty future…

The pair were met by E.ON’s business development manager, Mark Simpson, who is responsible for growing E.ON’s community energy business in the South West.

He explained that the centre has many functions which will benefit Cranbrook residents, including the callout engineers who work from the station.

“Any problems Cranbrook residents may encounter can be resolved quickly and efficiently by our engineers,” he said, as he led us into their office area.

“A call to our customer service centre will let us know there is something that needs looking into and, as they are just five minutes down the road, they could be on the scene very quickly, if an engineer is available.”

As Mark led us upstairs to the conference area, I enquired about the scaffolding which surrounded the centre.

“We are installing solar panels on the roof,” he explained. “This building is going to be very energy efficient.”

Upon entering the conference room, we caught a glimpse of the heart of the centre; a long narrow window revealed the pipes and machinery which work to provide houses with the necessities all year round.

As we made our way down, we were joined by project development manager Guy Trivett, who helped us make sense of what we were seeing.

“Rather than each home having its own boiler in the kitchen, community schemes like this effectively provide a central source of heat and hot water to our customers, 24-hours-a-day, 365 days of the year,” he said, as he led us around the main floor.

“This is a more efficient and cost-effective way of generating the power which is then transported by the highly-insulated pipe network to business units at Skypark and homes in Cranbrook.”

The pair introduced us to the equipment used to power the homes, including three huge boilers, a giant container which is used to store excess heat emitted from the transfer of hot water to houses, and heat and energy turbines.

The gas-fired boilers are currently serving the development but as heat demand increases in the coming years these will be replaced by high efficiency gas fired combined heat and power (CHP) units and ultimately by biomass CHP.

Once commissioned, the CHP turbines will still provide heat and hot water to both developments, at the same time generating electricity which can be fed into the national grid.

This is a low carbon heating solution, with the current system already producing carbon savings of about a quarter compared to the alternative system of individual gas boilers. And further advances are being made by E.ON to reduce the carbon output even more.

A short trip outside led us to a set of big sturdy pipes, which flow underground to Cranbrook.

“These flow and return pipes push the water to and from the town,” Mark explained.

“As they get closer to Cranbrook, they narrow in size until they shrink to very small individual pipes which branch out into each house.”

Looking at the centre and the way it works, it’s easy to see how impressive the processes will be when it’s fully functioning.

“This has been a massive project,” Mark concluded. “This is still early days in the Cranbrook story but, as we can see from building, from the solar panels on the roof to the pipes in the ground, this is a project designed to build energy efficiency into our everyday lives.”

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