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Roman baths harnessed to provide new eco-friendly heating system for Bath Abbey

12 March 2021


The interior of Bath Abbey

The interior of Bath Abbey

TECHNOLOGY from almost 2000 years ago has been harnessed to help to provide a modern eco-friendly heating system for Bath Abbey.

Engineers this week switched on an underfloor network of pipes that take their heat from the great Roman drain that carries away hot spring water overflowing from the city’s famous baths. Each day, about 1.1 million litres of water, at a constant 40°C, rises into the baths before escaping down the culvert into the River Avon.

Ten custom-built heat exchangers installed in the drain garner enough energy to heat the abbey, and Kingston Buildings, the adjacent row of Georgian cottages which house the abbey offices, song school, and volunteer facilities.

The commercial director of the contractors, Isoenergy, Edward Levien, said that they believed the project to be the first of its kind. It had also presented many difficulties. All the equipment had had to be lowered seven metres through a manhole in the road outside; and, although the drain was tall enough for a person to walk in, working in the humid and confined environment had “brought a new set of challenges”, he said. “We had to do the work in short 20-minute sections, as that is as long as a person can safely and effectively work down there.

“However, these are all minor inconveniences when we consider this remarkable achievement: we’re very proud of our team, and how hard they’ve worked to deliver this system that will enable the abbey to be heated with sustainable and low-carbon energy for generations to come.”

The work is part of Bath Abbey’s £19.3-million Footprint conservation project, which will also provide spaces for learning, music and interpretation, and improved visitor facilities.

The Rector, Canon Guy Bridgewater, said: “Previously, the abbey heating system, which dates back to the Victorian era, was energy-inefficient and expensive to maintain; but now, instead, we’re able to harness this previously unused natural resource.

“One of the abbey’s guiding purposes is to help treasure, sustain, and renew God’s creation; and I rejoice that, by working together with the many funding, design, and engineering partners involved in our Footprint project, we can wonderfully reduce our carbon footprint and become more responsible stewards of the planet’s resources.”

The abbey’s green credentials are being further enhanced with the installation of LED lighting. A low-energy system of 170 lights, intended to replace downlighters installed in the 1990s, started testing last month.

Not only will the LEDs provide a softer, whiter light: they can also give different colours, allowing the abbey to change its ambiance for special services and events. The original 15 Victorian chandeliers, designed by Francis Skidmore in 1870, were fitted with LEDs in 2013.

Canon Bridgewater said: “It will really enhance the overall appearance of the abbey, and bring out the best of the architecture while reducing energy consumption.”

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