Manchester landmark shines light on low carbon heat network

By Dominic Ellis
The 40-metre Tower of Light in Manchester is the focal point of the Civic Quarter Heat Network

Manchester’s Tower of Light has been officially switched on, marking a milestone in the development of the city’s new Civic Quarter Heat Network. 

Owned by the Council and built by Vital Energi, the focal point of the Civic Quarter Heat Network is the 40-metre tower, which will be lit up every night. The tower will be the most visible manifestation of the network, which will provide heating and electricity to some of the city centre's key buildings.

The network, which will go live early next year, will help them to reduce their carbon emissions and support the city’s transition to zero carbon by 2038. 

Using low carbon power generated in an energy centre located underneath the railway arches by Manchester Central, the network will serve the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Central Convention Complex, Central Library, Heron House, Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Town Hall and Town Hall extension buildings via 2km of underground pipes.  

The network will also have the capacity to connect to other buildings in the vicinity, both existing and future, whether public or private-owned – helping them to reduce their carbon footprints too. 

Mike Cooke, Vital Energi’s Managing Director for the North and Scotland, said: “We’re delighted to be helping Manchester City Council transition to a low carbon future through the development of the Civic Quarter Heat Network. The installation of future-proof infrastructure will revolutionise how heat and power is distributed through the city.

“The flue’s innovative lighting scheme paired with the partially transparent ‘Wall of Energy’, which allows the public to catch a glimpse inside the energy centre, ensures the Tower of Light will become an iconic feature to Manchester’s skyline.”

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.”  

The network has an efficient combined heat and power engine which captures and re-uses heat created as a by-product of producing electricity. Although initially fuelled by natural gas, there are plans to further reduce its carbon footprint as alternative measures and fuel supplies become available including the use of biomethane and the potential introduction of hydrogen into the fuel mix in 2024.

Not everyone has welcomed its arrival. The use of natural gas - the third most polluting type of fossil fuel - "will set the city back years when it comes to tackling pollution and climate change," according to scientists quoted in a Manchester Evening News report. Manchester has set itself a target of zero-carbon by 2038.

The project received Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) funding, which is delivered by Triple Point Networks Investment Management on behalf of the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Ken Hunnisett, Project Director for Triple Point Heat Networks, added: “The Heat Network Investment Project has awarded more than £250m to projects across England and Wales and while we love them all equally, few if any are as breathtakingly beautiful as Manchester’s magnificent Tower of Light which seems destined be one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and an icon of its ambitious net zero strategy. Many congratulations to everyone involved with the project on the achievement of this latest milestone.”


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