Jack Bowers, from Central Bedfordshire Council Live Lab, takes us through the Power Road Installation
As temperatures begin to drop, nights draw in and with friendly reminders on the news that we are less than 100 days away from Christmas, it’s the time of year where local authorities begin planning for their winter maintenance season.
Central Bedfordshire Council has always prided itself on a reliable winter maintenance service and engages regularly with residents to let them know what’s new for the season ahead as well as providing daily updates on gritting decisions.
As the council looks to evolve the gritting service, it has developed an exciting trial with ADEPT Live Labs funding. If it goes well, it could change the way local authorities across the country think about gritting.
Central Bedfordshire Council has partnered with Eurovia to use their exciting ‘Power Road’ technology as part of its Thermal Energy Live Lab trial. The installation has been installed at the council’s Thorn Turn Highways Depot, where a test site has been created to monitor the performance of the technology.
Although installation was completed in March 2021, warmer temperatures since then has meant the council could not test the ‘Power Road’ technology. If it works as intended, it will heat the road from underneath the surface (underfloor heating, if you like), meaning the council will not need to grit and therefore can save both money and time.
So, it sounds like an exciting, futuristic idea but how does the technology, which is the first of its kind in the UK, actually work?
There are five geothermic probes which extend 150 metres underground at the depot car park. There is fluid in these rods under the road surface. When the temperatures are warm the road surface heats up and the rods capture this warmth as heat energy; this energy is then transferred to the geothermal probes where it can be stored and keep its heat for several months.
Once the heat energy is needed, in our case when temperatures fall below 0 degrees, the energy is transferred up through the probes and heats the rods under the road surface to prevent snow or ice forming.
Any excess energy can be used for other purposes. In this instance, the council will be use the surplus energy to heat the depot building.
The installation, however, has not always been plain sailing.
At the very beginning of the project, the council proposed the installation would be on the public highway next to the major A421 dualling scheme. However, it was quickly established that there would be a significant risk of statutory undertakers such as utility companies damaging the pipework. The decision was made, in collaboration with ADEPT and Eurovia, to relocate to Thorn Turn Highways Depot, where the council could have better control of the works.
Then there were the delays caused by the pandemic, which all the other Live Labs felt too. The original installation timeline of winter 2020 was forced to move to spring 2021.
Despite the challenges, the system is now up and fully functioning with a dedicated control room at Thorn Turn to keep an eye on things. Currently, the majority of the energy is being stored underground for use in the winter with any remaining energy being used to power the Depot building. As we enter the evaluation part of this project, questions are being asked internally about how we see this technology been used not just in our authority, but nationwide.
There has already been interest from colleagues in our Property Assets Team. They are looking at the possibility of using the ‘Power Road’ technology on new school playgrounds, and also at new leisure centre sites where the technology could actually heat up the swimming pool.
While this is the first of its kind in the UK, it is becoming more widely used on the continent with Eurovia having a number of sites in both France and Czech Republic. These sites include housing, car parks, retail and commercial spaces and even airport runways.
The potential of this technology is huge, and if it designed in at the beginning of a scheme then it is more cost effective then building it in retrospectively.
For now though, we’ll sit back (with a hot drink) and assess how this technology works through the winter. We look forward to sharing the results.