A proposed cutting-edge renewable energy scheme which would slash carbon emissions and save more than half a million pounds a year has been given a green light in South Tyneside.
The Viking Energy Network would work by harnessing low-grade heat from the River Tyne and exporting it to 11 council-owned buildings in Jarrow, including high-rise flats, schools and sheltered accommodation schemes.
Subject to planning permission, the multi-million-pound scheme, which combines a river source heat pump, a combined heat and power (CHP) back-up system, a 1 MW solar farm, and a private wire electrical network with storage battery, would be the first of its kind in the UK.
The project has attracted a £3.5m ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) grant for its innovative approach and has been deemed viable following a feasibility study.
Detailed designs are now being drawn up for the system, which would save an estimated 1,475 tonnes of carbon per year.
An energy centre would be built on the banks of the river and a series of ducts and pipes would distribute heat to the various sites.
The council declared a climate emergency earlier this year and pledged to take all necessary steps to make South Tyneside Council become carbon neutral by 2030.
Cllr Joan Atkinson, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, said: "This project is highly innovative and unique in that it combines all three of these renewable technologies, ensuring minimal use of fossil fuels.
"It should also run close to carbon neutral for much of the summer by using electricity generated by the solar farm to run the heat pump. Any surplus electricity would be used in council buildings.
"The district heating system would heat 11 buildings around the town, including three of our residential tower blocks and two schools.
"As well as saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in fuel costs per year, the scheme would cut our overall carbon emissions by 12.5 per cent per year.
"This would make it a key component in our drive to become carbon neutral by 2030."
Water source heat pumps work by extracting heat from a body of water, compressing it to increase the temperature and then converting it into useful energy in the form of hot water in a network of insulated pipes connecting buildings. The solar farm would provide much of the electricity to power the heat pump.
CHP - which would be used on occasions when the solar panels hadn't generated sufficient electricity - is a highly-efficient process that harnesses the heat that is a by-product of the electricity generation process and which would otherwise be wasted.
Cllr Atkinson added: "We've already made great strides towards reducing our carbon footprint.
"But there is more to be done to enable us to fulfil our commitment of being carbon neutral by 2030.
"This scheme would make a huge contribution towards creating a greener and more sustainable Borough."