Hebburn Renewable Energy Scheme

Local Gov't • South Tyneside

After the original plan to create a district heating scheme using warm water in flooded former coal mines became unworkable, South Tyneside Council reimagined the scheme using air-source heat pumps.

  • Proposed District Heating System Network serving council properties.
  • Computer-generated image of proposed Energy Centre.

South Tyneside Council's story

This is the updated story of South Tyneside Council's brave refusal to admit defeat in the face of a major setback to its plans for an innovative district heating network in Hebburn, published here on Carbon Copy in October 2021. The original design to provide district heating in Hebburn, drawing on geothermally-heated water in flooded disused coal mines, had to be dropped for technical reasons.

Working with partners Vital Energi, South Tyneside Council has re-designed the heat source for the project, now pushing ahead with air-source heat pumps instead, with only about a 15% drop in efficiency.

The renamed Hebburn Renewable Energy Scheme is progressing at pace. This innovative sustainable district heating network in South Tyneside is entering its final phases, with the 272-metre pipe network and other infrastructure already complete, and construction of the Energy Centre well underway.

The network will connect initially to residential tower block Durham Court and Hebburn Central leisure centre, cutting carbon emissions by around 319 tonnes a year. The Energy Centre will house the air source heat pumps, from which hot water is circulated in heavily-insulated pipework to the buildings that will benefit from this low-carbon heating scheme. The new heat pumps will draw ambient heat from the air, rather than from underground mine water as in the original plan.

Cllr Ernest Gibson, the Council's Lead Member for Neighbourhoods and Climate Change, said: "We're expecting the system to be up and running by the end of 2023. More buildings will be added into the network in the future. This scheme is going to make a significant contribution to a cleaner, greener Borough and we will continue to invest and innovate to meet our energy demands in a sustainable way."

The new Centre, being built by Vital Energi, will include a viewing platform to allow visitors to get a first-hand experience of the innovative process. Electricity generated locally using solar panels and a Combined Heat and Power Unit will also be used to help power the system. The scheme, which secured over £3.9million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund, has been developed in collaboration with the Coal Authority and Durham University.

Useful learnings from South Tyneside Council

Following the drilling of pilot boreholes, contractor Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental had been working to construct wider abstraction and reinjection boreholes for the permanent drill casings. While one borehole was widened successfully, stability issues were discovered in the second borehole at a depth of 168m, preventing the well from reaching its target depth of 300m and being used as intended. Unfortunately, there were no tests or surveys which would have allowed the Council to foresee this issue. Instead, engineers had to rely on historic maps, which didn't detail the intricacies of the mine workings.

With innovation there is inevitably an element of risk, for which the Council had mitigated, with air source heat pumps already considered as a possible (if somewhat less efficient) alternative. It will take the learning from this scheme to continue to develop pioneering renewable energy systems.

South Tyneside Council's metrics

Reduction in building heating costs
Reduction in carbon emissions.

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South Tyneside

Response to climate crisis





Local Gov't, 250 to 10,000 people

Shared by

North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub

Updated Feb, 2024

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