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The right design for The Wheat Quarter

At a glance information

  • SCHEME NAME : The Wheat Quarter
  • PROPERTIES : 200 phase 1, increasing to 1000+
  • LOCATION : Welwyn Garden City
  • SERVICES : Design & Build, ESCo

The customer

In 2019 Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association (MTVH) appointed Switch2 as ESCo partner to review the design, operate and maintain a heat network for its new Wheat Quarter housing development in Welwyn Garden City, on the former Shredded Wheat factory site. Under the 40-year contract, Switch2 is responsible for heat network development and management, including supplying metering and billing technologies and services.

The challenge


MTVH’s objective for its flagship housing development was to create an affordable, reliable, low carbon heat scheme that could be easily converted from CHP to zero carbon generation as technologies mature. Switch2 was selected to deliver all aspects – supplying 200 homes in phase 1 and rising to more than 1,000 in phase 2. MTVH were particularly impressed with Switch2’s service standards and status as a founding member of the Heat Trust, which provides assurances to registered schemes, such as The Wheat Quarter, on the level of service MTVH and its customers can expect.

Using innovation to overcome challenges

A key challenge was to phase design and delivery of the heat network so that it could be expanded in the most cost-effective and efficient way to add 800+ homes in phase 2.

Phase 2 has been fully considered, including future-proofing the plant room by designing in the capability for expansion. Future plant has been ‘ghosted-in’ to designs amongst phase 1 infrastructure, so that there will be no supply interruption when phase 2 installation begins.

In the design review Switch2 used its Optimise technology to analyse complex half-hourly data from Switch2’s portfolio of more than 100,000 meter points to understand peak loads and trends on comparable schemes. This provided an accurate energy demand profile that was modelled into the design.

MTVH’s innovative approach to seek early engagement with the service provider is key as this is often left to adoption stage, which can be too late to make adaptions and realise cost savings.

The solution

The Optimise platform collates and analyses complex data from Switch2’s portfolio of more than 80,000 properties, BEMs, sensors and measurement points. This ensures the Wheat Quarter heat network is fully optimised and future-proofed from the outset.

Switch2’s approach follows a predictive maintenance strategy, to ensure continual supply and maximise uptime of the heat network. For example, mechanical failures can be detected and remedied early, pump inefficiencies, or overheating in communal areas can be identified, while control strategies, such as system flow regulation and return temperatures can be optimised.

Cameras will be installed into the energy centre, which will enable remote management of all energy plant. Cameras enable engineers to view the assets, listen for unusual sounds, check the screens of equipment. 8 of the 12 monthly visits will be completed remotely, improving both efficiency and cost performance.

The outcome

Major capital savings of £300,000 have been achieved by using a data driven, informed approach to the design process. By value engineering all aspects of the design, the quantity of plant has been reduced, leading to lower capital expenditure and lower ongoing operating and maintenance costs.

Further cost savings will be achieved on maintenance and by improving asset wear and tear and prolonging life of plant, as well as operational cost savings.

The end result is that the residents’ tariff has been reduced by £39 per property per annum, equating to £1m savings across the contract life.

By using AI technology to design-in emissions reductions and carefully monitor and manage emissions performance constantly throughout the project lifetime, there will be significant CO2 and NOX reductions.

Switch2’s pay-as-you-go smart metering solution will enable MTVH to manage costs, reduce debt risk, improve environmental performance, and achieve compliance with statutory regulations.


The benefits of Optimise have been proven when used on existing heat networks. Typical results are:

  • 40% Reduction in carbon emissions
  • 75% Reduction in maintenance visits
  • 50% Extension of asset life
  • Up to 40% energy savings


Switch2’s, fully electronic, connected HIU, providing complete remote connectivity will be installed into the properties. Alongside Optimise and remote management, this enables Switch2 to manage the entire scheme remotely from energy centre to property. With an ability to identify and diagnose faults or maintenance requirements in advance, it will maximise system uptime and resident satisfaction.

Environmental benefits

MTVH is committed to proactively contribute to the Government’s ambition to be Net Zero by 2050 and as part of this commitment decided to install a District Heat Network at the Wheat Quarter. District heating networks provide many benefits and are agile to adapt as technology develops.

The heat network has been designed to maximise CHP and boiler efficiency to ensure that emissions savings are maximised. Switch2 were able to design-out the heat substations within each block, saving £300,000 in capital costs and further savings in ongoing maintenance and lifecycle costs.  This also allows the system to operate at lower temperatures, reducing system losses.

This has been achieved by using Switch2’s Optimise technology to inform design, based on data and evidence drawn from the operational experience of Switch2’s heat network portfolio. This data was used to create an accurate energy profile for the new build heat scheme, enabling heating infrastructure to be correctly sized to maximise efficiency performance and minimise emissions. The ongoing optimisation of the scheme is expected to deliver 30% reduction in carbon emissions.

The Optimise platform will be critical to the ongoing efficiency and carbon reduction, due to its role in informing the operational efficiency of the network across its entire lifetime. This is critical to ensuring that there is no mismatch between the design intent and operational reality. In this way some of the key indicators of system efficiency can be monitored 24/7, e.g. return temperatures.

The option to transition to alternative low and zero carbon energy sources in the future has been built into the design process, which will enable MTVH and Switch2 to utilise new more sustainable heat sources as these technologies mature. For future connections, air source heat pumps are in place. This facility future-proofs the system for further expansion and offers the ability to reduce the amount of heat from CHP and boilers and replace with the more sustainable air source heat pumps. MTVH is committed to building greener, more eco-friendly homes.

The three most important statistics are:

  1. The design changes implemented will contribute to £1m tariff savings for residents.
  2. The ongoing optimisation of the scheme is expected to deliver 30% reduction in carbon emissions.
  3. Predictive maintenance approach will deliver 100% uptime of the heat network.

Stephen Lawson, MTVH Senior Development Manager, said: “MTVH is committed to building greener, more eco-friendly homes, while keeping our energy supply cost effective in line with our promise to make housing affordable for our residents, allowing them to live well. With Switch2 Energy as our ESCo partner, we look forward to high-performing, low-carbon energy.”

Kirsty Lambert, Business Development Director at Switch2 Energy, said: “We are delighted to partner with MTVH and will draw on more than 35 years of experience of developing and operating hundreds of heat networks to deliver this major ESCo project. We will design the energy centre to maximise efficiency and will use innovative optimisation and metering and billing technologies to maximise performance.