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Walker Sime helps Manchester become a beacon of energy efficiency


With the launch of its Civic Quarter Heat Network, Manchester is helping to shape the way every UK city could soon be heated and powered. For Manchester-based construction consultant Walker Sime, it’s also a huge source of pride.

Manchester’s Civic Quarter Heat Network went live on 14 October 2021. The Manchester City Council project, several years in development, is delivering heat and power to many of Manchester’s iconic buildings, increasing energy efficiency, cutting carbon, improving air quality and ensuring that, as new technologies are developed, Manchester is able to take full advantage.

Tower of Light

The launch event saw the project’s signature ‘Tower of Light’ – a beacon for energy efficiency that stands prominently by Manchester Central – fully illuminated for the first time. Yet it is just part of a much broader network of pipes and cables throughout the civic quarter of Manchester. Construction consultancy Walker Sime has been responsible for managing this complex project. .

“A Combined Heat and Power engine (CHP) replaces life-expired plant in iconic buildings across the city centre,” explained Senior Project Manager Benjamin Smith. “CHP essentially uses natural gas to produce electricity. A by-product of that process is heat which would otherwise be lost. This technology captures that heat and uses it to heat water which is sent round the network, heating buildings as well as supplying them with electricity.

“It’s a far more efficient use of energy. It reduces the carbon that the buildings used to emit from their outdated plant. What’s more, the network is designed to double in capacity, enabling many more buildings (new and existing) to join the network, making it even more efficient. It also presents space-saving opportunities for new developments as there’s no longer a need to accommodate flues and large boiler rooms.”

The project, which currently connects the Town Hall Extension and Central Library, Manchester Central Convention Centre, Bridgewater Hall, Heron House and Manchester Art Gallery, will support Manchester City Council in its ambition to become a Zero Carbon City by 2038. As Ben is the first to admit, the project has not been without its challenges.

“There are two main arteries of the network: east and west,” he said. “They run through some of the busiest routes in the city. These are significant excavations running metres deep, so we had to liaise with the local stakeholders including business owners, Highways, Transport For Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester Police.

“The energy centre itself sits directly beneath the railway arches by Manchester Central and next to the Metrolink so we’ve been working in extremely tight and challenging spaces. Like everyone else, we had the pandemic to deal with but in our case part of our site became a Nightingale hospital. We’ve also had political party conferences at Manchester Central to contend with, with the resulting security ‘ring of steel’ running through the centre of our site.”

“It’s fair to say pretty much everything that could have been thrown at us has been, and we’ve still managed to deliver a successful project.”

A successful collaboration

Now operational, the Civic Quarter Heat Network is a source of real pride for Ben and Walker Sime. “It has been a fantastic experience and a privilege to have worked on this project with Technical Director Julian Packer, I have been Project Manager on this since construction began in 2019 (in partnership with heat network specialist Vital Energi). I’m Manchester born and bred and Walker Sime is a Manchester-based company so to be part of something that’s a real step forward for the city – something that will make a major contribution to reducing Manchester’s carbon footprint – makes us all feel extremely proud.”

Ben knows that, in many ways, this is just the start of a long journey for the heat network. “The network has been designed to grow and play its part in changing the entire energy infrastructure of the city. And although the network relies on natural gas, this is very much a transitional technology, as it can take advantage of improvements in technology such as hydrogen as they come online.

“Manchester really is leading the way in this,” Ben added. “This is one of the first projects to receive funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and it has enormous potential to help shape the way other cities meet their energy needs.

“So while this marks a major step in the right direction for Manchester, we can see even greater energy efficiency and carbon reduction opportunities in the future. We are delighted to be playing our part in that.”

Councillor Tracey Rawlins, Executive Member for Environment for Manchester City Council, said: “The Civic Quarter Heat Network is a trailblazing system which demonstrates Manchester’s determination to cut our carbon emissions.

“As a Council we are committed to playing our full part in limiting the impacts of climate change as the city strives to become zero carbon by 2038 – at least 12 years ahead of the national target.

“It’s a complex challenge but ambitious projects such as this network show that we are taking action to rise to it. As well as looking beautiful, we hope that the Tower of Light will be a beacon for this kind of work.”