Low carbon heat from parks: what we're up to

We’re making great progress on our Powering Parks project. Working with Hackney Council and Scene consulting - and funded by Nesta - we’ve set out to explore the potential to mine heat from beneath our feet across Hackney’s public parks and green spaces.

The prize on offer is juicy: generate money for parks at the same time as cutting carbon emissions. How? By installing heat pumps (machines able to gather ambient heat stored in the ground, the air or bodies of water) in green spaces, then using that heat in the buildings nearby. If those buildings are owned by the council, they’ll save money on their heating bill right away. Otherwise they can sell the heat to other local buildings. In both cases, the money can be reinvested into parks for the future.

The plan is to make this happen in one Hackney park, ready for more projects to follow across the borough. Then other places can do it too - learning from our work.

So, where have we got to?

First, we set about a survey of every green space managed by Hackney (all 57 of them!). We looked at their size, what buildings were nearby and how much heat they used, and whether there were any works coming up we could piggy-back onto. We also considered things like whether they had an active park-user group we could talk to about proposals as they developed.

That process allowed us to whittle the list down to about 20 sites which were more likely to work. Then we delved even deeper and did some modelling to give us an idea of what a heat pump project on each site could actually look like. And THEN we had to whittle it down to a shortlist.

For this, we looked in even more detail at the buildings and who owns them, how long it’d take to install a heat pump and - importantly - what locals would think of the idea. After much deliberation we ended up with five exciting sites to take forward into the next stage.

So what’s next?

We’ll be busy in the first three months of 2019 working up full business cases for each of our five sites, so that by March we’re ready to show the top dogs at Hackney Council.

At the same time we’ll be talking to people who use the parks and running public events about how heat pumps actually work (or is it just magic?) and the potential for them to benefit us all - whether through our local green spaces or in our own homes, workplaces and schools.

We’re really excited about being able to push this into the next phase. By summer 2019 we should know if this is really going to work or not. If it is, we’ll be cracking straight on with phase 2: making them happen, and then working with others to spread our idea to new areas.

Photo by Srecko Skrobic