Hundreds of homes in northern England now use coal mine water heat

One of the boreholes used to extract mine water from disused workings 150m below Gateshead. (Image by the UK Coal Authority).

Six months after it started operating, the United Kingdom’s first large-scale mine water heat network has been deemed a success by the country’s Coal Authority.

Located in Gateshead, in northeastern England, the plant makes use of water-filled, disused coal workings 150 metres beneath the town centre and harnesses geothermal energy from mine water to generate localized, secure, low-carbon heat, replacing the function of traditional boiler systems.

Work on the underground mines required for the scheme was supported by the Coal Authority, which owns and manages the disused coal-mining infrastructure on behalf of the government. Research on the viability of the proposal was also carried out by the British Geological Survey.

“The council-owned Gateshead Energy Company project demonstrates how similar networks could benefit other coalfield communities across Great Britain. With billions of tonnes of coal extracted from British mines over the past three centuries, a wealth of information on mine workings exists,” the Coal Authority said in a media statement. “Many of our largest towns and cities grew due to their former coal reserves, leaving a good match between areas of heat demand and areas of disused mines.”  

The project received funding from the Gateshead Council, in addition to £5.9 million from the country’s Heat Networks Investment Project. The money was used to install 5 kilometres of new heat network pipes, boreholes and a heat pump energy centre capable of producing 6 megawatts of mine water heat.

The energy supplies 350 high-rise homes, the Glasshouse International Centre for Music, Gateshead College, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and several office buildings, including a large manufacturing site. Future additions will include 270 private homes, a new conference centre and a hotel development.

It’s been estimated that the Gateshead project will save 72,000 tonnes of CO2 over 40 years which equates to annual savings of about 1,800 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Given the positive results of this first initiative, the Coal Authority announced that it is now working with other local authorities and key partners across England, Scotland and Wales to unlock the full potential of the country’s mine heat resource.

“This is a major step forward in the mission to decarbonize heat and a real-world example of how former mining communities could benefit from using the historical industrial coal mining infrastructure to create an eco-friendly future,” the authority’s release states.

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