Dr Brian Cox

UK & Europe

Brian has over 15 years of experience in academic research and consultancy in the fields of water quality and hydrological monitoring and modelling. He specialises in the study of catchment processes and the effects of a variety of pressures on those systems. This includes strategic water modelling work for planning purposes. Brian has experience in the delivery of strategic, policy and operational projects for water resource planning and the remediation of problematic water bodies. He has line management responsibility for a specialist water quality team that supports work across the UK Atkins business.

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In 2010, 45% of the UK’s energy use was in buildings, with heating and hot water accounting for 34% of total UK energy (Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future). Throw in the fact that the average temperature to which people heat their homes in winter has gone up by 4°C over the past four decades, and this equates to a lot of energy (United Kingdom housing energy fact file 2013). At the same time the UK is signed up to an EU directive committing to supply 15% of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2020, but in 2012, renewables accounted for just over 5% of energy consumption (Digest of UK Energy Statistics, 2014).

At Atkins we’re used to delivering integrated and innovative solutions to meet water and environmental challenges around the world. At the top of those challenges must be energy provision, and for this reason we’ve launched the ‘Future Proofing Energy: Environment’ initiative which will explore the interactions between our future environment and our future energy provision. Heat pumps can meet some of the demand for heat by taking ambient heat from the air, water or the ground. To do this they must use energy, but for each unit of electricity consumed heat pumps can typically deliver two to four units of heat and so represent a highly efficient and replenishable way to deliver heat to buildings.

A sample from the DECC heat map tool showing the water source heat options around London, UK - including coastal, estuary, canal, river and settlement heat capacity.
A sample from the DECC heat map tool showing the water source heat options around London, UK – including coastal, estuary, canal, river and settlement heat capacity.

Just ahead of the May 2015 General Election in the UK, we’ve worked with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to identify sources of heat in English waters to help meet heating demands. We’ve developed a detailed water source heat map for local authorities, community groups and private developers to highlight opportunities for deploying this innovative heat pump technology in their area, particularly at larger scales (e.g. for heat networks).

Our work with DECC focussed on the heat available in over 4,000 English rivers, canals estuaries and coastal waters, but the same approach and modelling could be applied anywhere. We showed that a million properties across England could tap into this cleaner heat source hidden in our waterways; rivers alone could provide over six gigawatts (GW) of low-carbon heat. Smaller urban areas on larger rivers could have their entire heat demand satisfied by the river alone. For some locations like the West Midlands, canals may be the best source of heat with over 80 megawatts (MW) available heat capacity in our canals. In the south west and south of England estuarine and coastal waters are favourable heat sources and the saline water can allow for a longer operating window.

The government has also published a flow chart to help people navigate the process of setting up a water source heat pump. The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme launched in April 2014 is a taxpayer funded initiative that should support renewable heat technologies of all types. With better guidance and information from DECC and our work it will be important to see how well this scheme performs to ensure that cost-effective renewable heating becomes a reality; safeguarding the UK’s future energy security and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Battersea Power Station is the latest developer looking into installing a water source heat pump, which could be one of the energy sources used to provide heat to around 4,000 new homes, shops, offices and public amenities.

Our multi-disciplinary teams, working closely with DECC, are helping build the low carbon infrastructure required to meet the government’s 2050 targets. This project has shown the unexploited potential all around us. Identifying and understanding how previously untapped energy sources like this can provide a ‘green’ way of helping to meet our country’s energy needs, decrease emissions and improve energy security.

Find out more about our work with DECC and the heat map tool here, in this BBC news story.

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