Following exploratory works to establish project feasibility, Colchester Borough Council (CBC) and Colchester Amphora Energy Ltd (wholly owned by CBC) have concluded another phase of testing at the Northern Gateway for the planned district heating system to benefit new proposed housing and office development.

This all-important testing consists of drilling a series of boreholes across the site into the aquifer (a layer of saturated chalk and gravel), 70 metres below ground, and testing the amount of water that can be pumped out and subsequently returned into the aquifer. The district heat system will use a heat pump to extract heat out of the water to provide a low-carbon heat source.

Although there is a large amount of water in the aquifer, the amount of water that can be abstracted from a borehole will vary according to the structure of the ground near the borehole, thus the requirement to carry out testing long before the installation of the district heat scheme.

The latest test results from this stage were better than anticipated, meaning the scheme is on track to provide over 70% of the heat produced as low carbon, which will significantly reduce carbon emissions usually caused by individual gas boilers heating homes and offices.

As the development will be built out over several years, the actual percentage of renewable heat in first few years will be higher than 70% and allows time for the development of other technologies to replace carbon-based heat to achieve climate change goals.

The next stage of tests begins this week with the drilling of another borehole to the east of the Mill Road rugby ground/sports pitches.

Councillor Theresa Higgins, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Commercial Services commented on the pioneering scheme: “Reducing our heating-related carbon emissions is an important part of meeting climate change goals, and this is a very positive result for this innovative scheme at the Northern Gateway. Awareness of our climate and environment is more important now than it has ever been before.”

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