Innovative heat pumps play major role in Oxford Energy Superhub

Oxford’s reputation for research and innovation extends across the globe, but closer to home, the world-leading Energy Superhub Oxford project is demonstrating how innovation can be harnessed to accelerate net zero.

Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) is one of three demonstrator projects, part-funded by government, designed to showcase how innovative technologies can be combined to create smart, local energy systems

The £40m project is being delivered by a consortium of six partners, including Oxford City Council, Pivot Power, part of EDF Renewables, Habitat Energy, Kensa Contracting, Invinity Energy Systems and the University of Oxford.

Bringing together a powerful network of hybrid battery energy storage, rapid EV charging, low carbon heating, and smart energy management, this public-private collaboration is combining new technologies and business models to develop an integrated approach to decarbonising power, transport and heat across the city. The aim is to transform how people power their lives, from travelling to work to heating their homes, and help Oxford reach net zero by 2040, a full decade earlier than the UK’s 2050 deadline.

Low carbon heating

As part of the project, Kensa Contracting aims to equip 100 properties in and around Oxford with low-carbon heating solutions, combining innovative ‘shoebox’ ground source heat pumps with smart controls and a time of use tariff to optimise cost and carbon savings.

Installations are nearly complete at the first 60 properties, at a Stonewater social housing scheme in Oxford’s Blackbird Leys area. Individual Shoebox ground source heat pumps have been retrofitted into each property and connected to a communal ground array, displacing mostly night storage heaters.

The heat pumps will work together with behavioural-learning controls to produce space heating and hot water at the optimum times based on the individual householder preferences. To deliver this as cost effectively and sustainably as possible, the systems will access flexible tariffs and automatically run the heat pumps when electricity is at its cheapest and lowest carbon.

This ‘load shifting’ will help to stabilise the electricity grid, without compromising on customer comfort, and will become an increasingly important component for the mass deployment of heat pumps. Residents will benefit from clean, renewable heat, and are expected to realise demonstrable savings on their heating bills, compared to a standard ground source heating system without smart controls and automated load shifting.

Take a video tour of the ground source heat pump installation in Oxford.

Hybrid battery storage

At the heart of ESO is the world’s largest hybrid battery, which combines the high-power capabilities of a 50MW/50MWh lithium-ion battery with the heavy-cycling, non-degrading characteristics of a 2MW/5MWh vanadium flow battery.

This giant battery will connect directly to the high voltage national electricity network and leverage the strengths of each technology to support more renewables, increase grid resiliency and create a smarter, more flexible system.

Electric Vehicle charging network

The battery will share its connection to the high voltage electricity network with an 8km private wire, creating the world’s most powerful EV charging network to the south of the city. This network is critical to Oxford City Council’s transport decarbonisation plans, including the implementation of a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre.

The network will power one of the country’s largest public superhubs at Redbridge Park & Ride, which will offer a mix of charge point speeds so that drivers can charge and be on the move in minutes, or over a period of hours while they visit the city to shop or work. Over time the network will be expanded to power charging facilities at bus and council depots and commercial fleets.

In parallel, ESO is financing the electrification of 40 of Oxford City Council’s 339-strong vehicle fleet, from cars and vans to road sweepers and a refuse collection vehicle. These vehicles are providing valuable insights to help the council electrify 25% of its fleet by 2023.

Climate leadership

With COP26 on the horizon, ESO demonstrates the scale of ambition, innovation and collaboration needed to tackle the climate crisis. Its unique approach aims to save 10,000 tonnes of CO2 in its first year – the equivalent of taking over 2,000 cars off the road – rising to 25,000 tonnes per year by 2032. For other towns and cities, it will offer a blueprint for how to cut carbon and improve air quality, accelerating net zero and powering people’s lives with clean energy.