Renewable heat adventures with Gio in south London

Community energy groups were sent back to the drawing board when the government cut support for renewables. But not to be beaten, groups have been innovating. This is the story of one group venturing into new territory.

"It genuinely is time for people to don their superhero clothes and get out there and do something about climate change."

So Giovanna Speciale got her cape and tights and set up South East London Community Energy. Over the last four years, Giovanna and her team have done a tonne of work helping people tackle fuel poverty and installing community solar.

But they were keen to branch out. One chilly January day in 2017, the team were sat around in the freezing cold and (perhaps it was their numb hands talking) decided they wanted to do something about renewable heat.

It was a new idea that few, if any, community energy groups had tried before. Giovanna set to work investigating different kinds of renewable heat and the best places to use it.

Swimming pools use lots of energy heating the air and water, and she found two that would fit the bill - one a leisure centre, the other a hydrotherapy pool at a school.

There are a few different kinds of renewable heat, and after lots of research the team came up with two options. The first was a biomass boiler which burns Londoners’ coffee grounds. The other was an air source heat pump which collects any little bits of heat from the air outside and concentrates them into actual heating. In other words, magic.

But things didn’t go according to plan. After months of work they found out biomass wasn’t allowed under London’s air quality rules. Worse, the air source heat pump proved uber expensive - so that was a no go too.

Despite all of this, what keeps Giovanna getting up in the morning?

“Optimism! A belief that we can make change.”

So it’s really no wonder Giovanna isn’t giving up yet. Back when they were searching for swimming pools to work with, one pool had looked promising if they used a different type of tech called a water source heat pump. It’s basically the same as an air source heat pump but collects the heat from water like lakes.

The pool in question was too far away from the local lake so they couldn’t run with it. But, next door and right on the lakeside, there’s an artist’s studio currently being refurbished. Could that soon be warmed up with some renewable heat? We’ll have to wait and see.

These profiles were created in partnership with Regen and the Friends Provident Foundation.

Photo: South East London Community Energy