Reflections on 2021, looking ahead to 2022

Managing Director Mike Reynolds shares his reflections on 2021 and expectations for 2022.

It is late in the month to be writing my reflection on 2021 and look forward to 2022 but the extra weeks have helped with perspective.  Like many people I found 2021 a challenging year.  It started with the long lock down with the vaccine light at the end of the tunnel promising much, but it wasn’t until the summer that many of my team and I were vaccinated and we spent six long months working from home at the start of the year. I ended the year taking a break for 6 weeks after nearly four years in the fun factory getting this great business up and running.  While I was off it was wonderful to see a team of 50 or so people, ten times the number who walked in the door in March 2018, performing so steadily and reliably and closing out the year with success.

2021 did, however, see some notable highlights for our business:

The government have been listening hard and after many years of advocating for the use of Zoning it is great to see the government launch a consultation on how to effectively implement zoning to accelerate the deployment of district heating. After a frustrating few years of not getting much traction in policy circles this, and the announcements on much needed regulation and consumer protection for our industry, were very welcomed and saw some virtual high-fives with our colleagues in Public Affairs.

We have, to offset that, seen a lot more noise in the market about heat pumps in every building and hydrogen in gas networks within 10 years. It is worrying sometimes to see the lack of clear thinking in the media about these important discussions at a time when the public are demanding faster action on climate change. We hope to lead the charge in raising the profile of district heating in the market and eyes of consumers more generally over the next few years.

More practically we have taken on (adopted) our first heat infrastructure – the pipes at Brent Cross Town were installed last year and it is exciting to see this area of London start its march towards Fossil Freedom.

We moved to ink on paper in two key partnerships – one with Cory, to develop one of the UK’s largest district heating networks in south east London anchored from their energy recovery facility (ERF) in Bexley, and another with Viridor which is looking nationally at similar opportunities but starting with a potential 20km strategic heat main in the city of Bristol to connect their Avonmouth ERF to the growing demand for clean heat in that city.

And one of our own, Selene Molina Blanco, won the Rising Star award at the ADE awards last year… recognition for her work at pulling together the team and setting up such a remarkable working approach with the Brent Cross Town development and construction teams. This was great recognition from the industry for someone we already knew internally was a superstar… but it is always nice when others agree!

So looking forward to 2022 what do I expect or hope to see:

We kicked off the year with our first ISO audit from Bureau Veritas – we are seeking to gain our certification for HS, Environment, and Quality standards. Lots of work has gone in to setting up our systems and processes and the auditors are in right now looking at them! A really important milestone as we mature as a business and demonstrating our commitment to doing things properly. Safety will remain a high priority for our business this year and move from conceptual to practical in a big way as we start our first construction projects. With work starting in Midlothian and in South East London it is exciting to be selecting and appointing contractors and also putting in place the foundations of our approach to delivering district heating in the UK- marrying the best of our pan-European experience with a quality local team and excellent suppliers.

As we expand our business in the UK we are now actively looking for other cities or local authorities to partner with in a similar way to our partnership with Midlothian – where we have a fantastic equitable, open, transparent and collaborative relationship.

With our peers in the sector, we look forward to working with government to flesh out the detail of implementing Zoning in cities in a way that means that it has teeth and real meaning for property owners in those areas. It would be great to exit 2022 with some of the biggest questions answered about how we scale our market for everyone.

And finally, with 50 people, and after several years of some wonderful initiatives to drive greater diversity and representation in our business and our industry, I am hoping that we can up our game even further in this critical area in 2022. We are starting this by hiring dedicated D&I Officer who will work not only on our initiatives, but also collaborate with others in our sector to really help the district heating industry lead the charge in this area. It is something I have been passionate about since forming the business in 2018 and watch this space for some great initiatives in 2022.

Finally, with the R-rate below 1, I really do hope that we are able to see each other more in person. We have now spent nearly 50% of our time developing this business during lock down.  It really has become very comfortable working on Microsoft Teams and collaborating virtually, but we all miss the human contact and the ability to move things faster in person.

I hope 2022 is a good year for you and a good year for our industry.  As always, Vattenfall will try to be standard-bearers for high quality, low carbon district heating and we welcome the opportunity to work with you all to grow this market together so we can deliver a great service to customers and reach fossil freedom faster.

See also

First pipes in the ground at Brent Cross Town

A significant milestone has been achieved as construction has started on the primary district heating network at Brent Cross Town.

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Fiscal policy must support the UK's net zero heat ambitions

A clear strategy to decarbonise heating alongside the right financial framework will encourage investment to flow into the sector, writes Mike Reynolds, Managing Director of Vattenfall Heat ...

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Vattenfall launches ambitious plan to heat London’s buildings without fossil fuels

On 21st September at London's iconic Tower Bridge, we outlined our ambitious vision to connect the equivalent of 500,000 homes in east London, saving up to 26 million tonnes of CO2 over 20 y...

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