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Live Labs Blog – Central Bedfordshire's final wrap up

Central Bedfordshire's Jack Bowers provides his view of the Live Labs experience.

Central Bedfordshire Council’s ADEPT Live Labs journey has nearly come to an end and it’s been a fantastic trial to take part in. 

As a council, we are working incredibly hard on reducing our carbon footprint and it seems a long time ago now that colleagues took part in the ‘Dragon’s Den’ round as we set out our aim of trialling renewable energy. 

The aim was to use three different innovative technologies - kinetic, solar and geothermal - to help mitigate the risk of rising energy costs against decreasing budgets. And, if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that local authorities across the country will need to continue to look at innovative ways to tackle the rise in energy costs. 

So, what did we do in Central Bedfordshire?

The first trial we had installed was our kinetic trial at Leighton Buzzard station in partnership with Pavegen. The two kinetic footways were the first of its kind to be in place at a UK train station. So far, thousands of people have walked across the technology which has created energy to power smart benches and an advertising board. 

The second trial we had installed was our thermal trial, produced by Eurovia and named ‘Power Road’. This technology was installed at our Highways Depot and, in really simple terms, this trial effectively acts as underfloor heating for our car park with probes taking heat stored 150m underground. 

For the third trial we worked with Colas to install 126 solar panels onto our car park at Thorn Turn Depot. These panels can produce 16,000KW of electricity per annum which is enough to power our depot completely from renewable energy. The panels are also sturdy and are suitable for all vehicles to drive on. 

One of the biggest successes of these projects has been seeing the trials go from an idea to a reality. Each of the trials are working as intended and as a council we are continuing to use these renewable energy sources for a number of things including powering advertising boards, fuelling the depot and heating the road surface. 

The reaction to these trials has also been really positive, which in itself is one of the real successes. 

For any green initiative or change to work, it needs to capture the public’s imagination and our projects have really done this. From our communication and engagement activities we have reached more than 6 million people, had 36 news articles across national, regional and sector specific press and had over 125,000 engagements across all social media platforms. 

There has been a lot of learning throughout this project and one of the great things about this programme is that it has been encouraged that we learn from failure. 

Whilst the main aim of the project remained, there have been a few changes. We’ve always kept the technology the same but the location on each trial has changed. 

Initially we wanted to use solar and geothermal along one of our busiest roads, the A421. But as we moved the project forward, we realised that installation here would have meant a requirement for battery storage which would have been cost prohibitive to the project. There would also have been a risk from utility companies damaging the pipework. 

Therefore, by having these trials at our depot we could have full control of this with minimal risk. Moving forward, if this was to be rolled out in busier locations there would have to be close working with the utility companies. 

We’re already looking at ways we can expand parts of the programme for each of our trials. Whilst we are still waiting for all our data, we believe there is potential to roll out the kinetic footway to other busy locations, such as leisure centres, shopping centres and other train stations. We’ll be working with our internal teams to see where we can maximise the use of the kinetic technology. 

The thermal trial will have its challenges due to costs but if installed prior to a scheme or building taking place the technology could be used to power building, leisure centre pools or even car parks. 

Finally, solar looks like the one that could have the biggest impact from an environmental point of view as it’s been suggested that solar panels covering less than 1% of the world’s total land surface could meet today’s global energy needs. We are now looking at installing this solar technology at other council car parks, walking paths and cycle routes. 

So, knowing what we know now, would we do it again? Absolutely. 

The Live Labs trials have been a fantastic experience and the knowledge gained not just from ours but other Live Labs is second to none. If there was an opportunity to take part in a Live Labs 2 you could expect interest from Central Bedfordshire Council. 

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