Who Needs Central Heat When You Live Above a Subway Shaft?

A smart plan to warm homes with heat recycled from the London Underground.

Image
Flickr/Walter Lim

Among all of their other byproducts – in economic benefits, time savings, reduced emissions – subway systems also happen to generate a lot of heat. You've probably felt it standing in an underground subway stop in the dead of winter. Trains generate heat when they brake. The lighting in subway systems creates heat, too. As do all the passengers (another phenomenon you've undoubtedly experienced in a packed train car).

Much of this heat is discharged in pretty concentrated quantities out of ventilation shafts, where it dissipates into the air. In theory, though, we could actually do something with it. Like heat nearby homes.

The city of London recently announced plans to actually try this with several hundred households conveniently located near the London Underground. The city has worked out a deal with Transport for London and a small local district heating network that already provides energy to about 700 homes in the Islington neighborhood through a combined heat-and-power plant ("In the same way that we use heat from a car engine to keep us warm when driving, the energy centre uses the heat created from producing electricity to help heat buildings and provide hot water").

The Bunhill Energy Center already has a network 1.4 miles of pipes connecting the plant to local homes. The plan is to capture heat from the subway system and funnel it into that network.

The city believes this is the first project of its kind in Europe, and it supports efforts to find more alternative sources of energy that could help London curb its carbon footprint. Outside of London, the project also looks like yet another excuse to lobby for the value of rail transit. Or, looked at another way, here is a consolation prize for people who have to live over the rumbling din of subway traffic: Maybe that noise could fill their homes with heat, too.

•             The heat network is currently fed by a Combined Heat and Power energy centre which produces both electricity and heat. In the same way that we use heat from a car engine to keep us warm when driving, the energy centre uses the heat created from producing electricity to help heat buildings and provide hot water.

•             The network has 1.4 miles of pipes which carry the heat to local housing estates and a leisure centre.  Heat from the London Underground will be captured and added to this network.

- See more at: http://www.london.gov.uk/media/mayor-press-releases/2013/11/waste-heat-from-the-tube-will-help-to-warm-hundreds-of-homes#sthash.qt0riyRR.9ePUyI4o.dpuf
•             The network has 1.4 miles of pipes which carry the heat to local housing estates and a leisure centre.  Heat from the London Underground will be captured and added to this network. - See more at: http://www.london.gov.uk/media/mayor-press-releases/2013/11/waste-heat-from-the-tube-will-help-to-warm-hundreds-of-homes#sthash.qt0riyRR.dpuf

•             The heat network is currently fed by a Combined Heat and Power energy centre which produces both electricity and heat. In the same way that we use heat from a car engine to keep us warm when driving, the energy centre uses the heat created from producing electricity to help heat buildings and provide hot water.

•             The network has 1.4 miles of pipes which carry the heat to local housing estates and a leisure centre.  Heat from the London Underground will be captured and added to this network.

- See more at: http://www.london.gov.uk/media/mayor-press-releases/2013/11/waste-heat-from-the-tube-will-help-to-warm-hundreds-of-homes#sthash.qt0riyRR.9ePUyI4o.dpuf

Hat tip Inhabitat.

Top image: Flickr user Walter Lim.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.