Mott MacDonald working on £32m scheme, which could be rolled out across government estate

A pioneering proposal to slash the energy use of eight of the country’s leading museums and institutions will be unveiled by Mott MacDonald and energy minister Greg Barker next week.

The scheme - the largest of its kind in the world - would create a huge underground heating and cooling network deep beneath Exhibition Road in South Kensington, linking buildings including the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, Imperial College and the Royal Albert Hall.

Those behind the £32m carbon reduction plan hope that it could provide the key to greening the entire government estate - one of the crucial tasks in meeting the UK’s target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

The South Kensington scheme would use boreholes to access the natural chalk aquifer 60m below the ground to store heat during the summer for winter heating, and coolth during the winter for summer cooling.

Mott MacDonald, the firm behind the technical study underpinning the initiative, also hopes to make use of the existing Victorian network of tunnels beneath the institutions for the pipework needed to pump the warm and cold water required.

“We are trying to go back to the idea that if you all pull together in terms of neighbourhood-scale infrastructure planning, everyone benefits,” said Richard Shennan, divisional director and engineer at Mott MacDonald.

“The key thing about this project is collaboration. Victorian buildings consume a lot of heat while modern buildings like those of Imperial College tend to need cooling. This will allow us to even out energy demand over winter and summer.”

Shennan added that he expected the scheme to be able to pay for itself in about a decade.

Nick Ray, director of project consultant Cynergin called the plan a “landmark project for the UK and a high-profile exemplar for the whole government estate.”

“Emissions from the estate make up a significant proportion of all emissions and if this was adopted across all government buildings they would be cut in one stroke,” he added.

The project - which has yet to secure funding but has already cost about £3m to develop via the Treasury’s Invest to Save scheme - has been drawn up on behalf of the 1851 Group, an alliance of institutions also including the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music.

Barker will launch the scheme at the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre next Tuesday evening (29 November).