Like many towns in Northern England, Oldham in Greater Manchester has an extensive network of disused coal mines underneath the town centre dating back to the industrial revolution.
Previously used to extract coal that would power the great industrial steam engines that once propped up Greater Manchester’s cotton-spinning economy, the mines fell out of use when the trade dwindled and have sat vacant ever since.
Inspired by heating schemes elsewhere in Europe, the town of Oldham is now looking to utilise these once forgotten spaces to create a mine water heating network.
By extracting energy from floodwater in the disused coal mines, which is heated by geothermal processes, a network of pipes will be able to carry the renewable form of energy to public, commercial, and residential buildings across the town.
As part of plans, heat pumps will be installed to deliver hot water around the town centre through insulated pipes, opening up the potential for energy-efficient heating.
The project is currently in the feasibility stage, and working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Oldham Council has commissioned specialist consultants and the UK Coal Authority to look into the options the network.
Andrew Hunt, Programme Manager at Oldham Council, said: “If the principle of mine water heat can be shown to work in Oldham, it could open up the potential for this clean energy technology to supply town centres anywhere where this industrial heritage exists.
“The feasibility study has shown that a 4MW (megawatt) mine water heat network could supply large town centre buildings such as Oldham Spindles, Oldham Leisure Centre, and a wide range of other commercial and residential buildings, including homes on a nearby social housing estate.”
First Choice Homes Oldham, which owns the St Mary’s social housing estate, already own a district heat network, and feasibility work has shown that this could be linked up with a new mine water heat network that would serve the whole of Oldham.
This potential wide-scale heat network could be expanded even further in the future. The existing First Choice Homes energy centre at St Mary’s houses 3.5MW of biomass boilers which could also be used to provide additional heat for the low carbon heat network.
Oldham Council and First Choice Homes are now looking to work together on the next stage of technical and economic feasibility to see if they can make the new low carbon heat network a reality. Key to this will be the drilling of test mine water boreholes, which will be the next big step towards the realisation of a low carbon Oldham Town Centre.