It’s 8.27am in London, you’re late for work, and somebody’s face is squashed against your shoulder.
You are, of course, on the London underground. But what if the Tube’s feverish warmth of humans in uncomfortable proximity to other humans could be used … for good?
Well, you’re about to learn about a little something called “renewable heating.”
Your sweaty commute could actually accomplish something delightfully cool: keeping hundreds of houses in London warm throughout the cold winter months.
Specifically, excessive temperatures on the Northern line (note for global readers: that’s the route that sort of goes through Platform 9 and ¾) will soon be piped into homes and businesses across Islington, north London.
"The Greater London Authority estimates there is enough heat wasted in London to meet 38 per cent of the city’s heating demands."— Unearthed (@UE) August 27, 2019
Harnessing the Tube network's heat emissions could help the UK reach its net zero carbon emissions target.https://t.co/K65bHpQBsO
All that heat actually already keeps about 700 properties warm via the Bunhill Energy Centre, according to the Guardian. But it plans to expand into a further 450 homes in the coming months — and it could set the standard for the rest of the city to move from red to green.
Indeed, the Greater London Authority (GLA) believes that 38% of the city’s heating demands could be met just by the warmth we waste every day — and that could rise to 63% by 2050.
Hot stuff, baby, this heating. All the while, a 2015 report from the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) found that 54% of all energy produced in Britain is wasted, equivalent to a £9.5 billion black hole every year.
“Almost half the energy used in the UK is for heat, and a third of UK emissions are from heating,” Tim Rotheray, ADE director, told the Guardian. “With the government declaring that we must be carbon-neutral within 30 years we need to find a way to take the carbon out of our heating system.
“The opportunity that has become clear to the decentralised energy community is the idea of capturing waste heat and putting it to use locally,” he added.
The whole shabang comes from Islington Council, Transport for London (TfL), and engineering firm Ramboll all working together.
The project works with the help of a heat pump, according to the BBC, that uses a ventilation shaft on City Road — a road that stretches through central London, and, fun fact, was also name-dropped in 17th-century pop banger Pop Goes the Weasel — to capture waste heat that can then be redirected to homes.
Anyone from London knows that the excess heating from the Central line could probably harness enough energy on its own to create some form of intelligent life — it hit 30 degrees Celsius down there in this summer’s heat wave. So it’s no surprise that TfL calls renewable heating a “significant low-carbon energy source" that it’s looking to roll out across the rest of the network, too.
And that’s really good news in the fight against the climate crisis.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in March 2019 that gas-powered boilers would be banned from 2025, and although campaigners said that his changes didn’t go far enough — Friends of the Earth remarked he was “fiddling in the margins while the planet burns” — creative solutions for heating sources such as these will be vital to fill the gap.