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Claremont Way
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01 October 2020

Net zero carbon needs you

Net zero carbon needs you
Zero is a very easy number to say, but it’s a very difficult number to deliver on.

We’re committed to making this new town net zero carbon by 2030 at the latest – just a decade from now and 20 years ahead of the UK target. At Brent Cross Town, we are addressing the challenge of the global climate crisis with the urgency it requires.

Our energy partner in this is Vattenfall, the Swedish multinational power company whose mission is “fossil free living within one generation”. One of the most advanced energy providers in the world, Vattenfall will work with us to build an on-site energy centre to heat Brent Cross Town using 100% renewable electricity. We spoke to Adriana Rodriguez Cobas, director for the South and Wales at Vattenfall Heat UK, about what it’s going to take.

Rodriguez explains that this feat will be less about new-fangled technology than you might think. Instead, there’ll be a whole lot of old-fashioned pulling together. In a net carbon zero world, you’ll be selling energy too.

Adriana Rodriguez Cobas is a director at Vattenfall Heat UK, which promises fossil-free power within one generation

Net carbon zero sounds impressive, but what does it mean in practice?

Zero is a very easy number to say, but it’s a very difficult number to deliver on. It’s about keeping things in balance; what’s polluting but can be replaced with a green alternative? This is not only limited to energy, but it’s also about buildings as a whole and the materials that go into them and the construction process – traditional concrete produces a lot of CO2. If we can’t remove emissions, how can we counterbalance them? 

Can you give some examples of emerging technologies that could be part of the energy mix in 20 or 30 years’ time?

Not all of it is technology, actually! I find that interesting, a lot of it is about integrating things. If you’re releasing heat, you could contribute to the network. We see it happening in Sweden. One example is that we told a small coffee roaster we needed more heat on Mondays and Wednesdays around a certain time of day, and they were able to change their operations to maximise the heat they sold us [from roasting beans] to match that need. They now make money not only from selling their coffee, but also from selling heat that otherwise would be wasted and released to the environment. That’s quite an exciting idea, and it has very little to do with technology.

I can’t imagine the sort of infrastructure you would need in order to make that possible.

It’s not as complicated as we would think. We need infrastructure, but as my colleague who works in engineering would say: the engineering will be sorted. It’s putting in a heat exchanger, something that transfers heat from one side to the other, and then connecting it to a pipe. We can do that. But what we think about a lot is: how do we interact with people? How would all this work in practice? How do people get paid for the heat they sell us? A lot is about getting people excited. It’s a big shift. So how do we make it easy and attractive for people to make good choices? We talk about kilowatt hours, but that means nothing to me as a resident – I want things to work.

We’re committed to making this new town net zero carbon by 2030 at the latest – just a decade from now.

Brent Cross Town’s carbon goals are astonishingly ambitious. How are you planning to achieve them?

We are doing a lot of work with Argent Related to explore the art of the possible. What is the long list of technologies from the supply side that will help us to produce cleaner energy? From the demand side, what will help us to require less heat for every single customer? One example is better insulation in homes, but we’re also looking at some exciting, lesser-known technologies that will become part of our road map. We consider how ready those technologies are, because at the end of the day, customers still need these services to be reliable, and it shouldn’t be at the expense of people paying much more. The technologies we will use will evolve over time. Our work with Argent Related is a long-term project; the world will change a lot in that time.

The UK and Europe are aiming for net carbon zero by 2050, but we’re a long way off. What would it look like to achieve that?

We need more organisations that are pushing the likes of us to do this – and having clients like Argent Related that are saying, “It’s our responsibility to do this.” That buy-in is starting to happen. Local authorities are declaring climate emergencies. We need to engage more with end customers. It doesn’t always need to be more expensive, but we need to face the fact that someone will need to pay for it, and how to split the bill between developers, energy companies, end customers, and making it fair for everyone. Those tough conversations need to happen. It’s a journey, and we need to be willing to accept that things will change.

Learn more about Vattenfall Heat UK’s fossil free pledges.

Background about Brent Cross Town’s net zero carbon pledge

Over the next 10 years, we are aiming to evolve the energy supply at Brent Cross Town from low-carbon to zero carbon, achieving net zero carbon by 2030. The options we are investigating cover all aspects from technical and operational to promoting behavioural change. Examples include using waste heat recovery from sewers, data centres and more to power the site-wide district heating network, electrification of heating equipment and optimising the performance of the district heating network.