I spent yesterday in Birmingham looking at the Utilicom District Heating Scheme which is growing fast organically like their Southampton example. The initial scheme for Broad Street proved the principle, another cluster is under development with a hospital and Aston University and they are now planning to build a network around every rebuilt school in the city. The schemes are gas CHP with biomass being added soon.
The generic lessons you can take from this example to apply to any large scale environmental project are:
1. A reinforcement of the "evolution, not revolution" principle – grandiose schemes will usually collapse under their own weight. Start small and stable and grow.
2. Build a flexible business model – Utilicom sell heat, coolth and electricity, but each client gets what they need – some get all three, others get just one etc.
3. If you want to work with a Local Authority, take as much risk out of the equation as you can (Utilicom take 100% of the risk in this case). No matter how good your scheme is, gambling with tax payers’ money is not in the Local Authority psyche.