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London 2012: Power of design

The London 2012 Olympics aims to be a beacon for sustainable delivery of the Games and the infrastructure behind it. And its Energy Centre − resembling a mini Tate Modern − is at the heart of its plans. Andrea Klettner reports.

With London 2012 aiming to be the greenest, most sustainable Olympics to date, it is only fitting that the first piece of usable legacy will be the park’s own Energy Centre.

The idea is that it will be a carbon neutral and efficient source of power, as well as a heating and cooling system across the site for the Games and for the new buildings and communities that will develop in the years after.

Work on the project, which is located at the western edge of the park on the former Kings Yard site, started towards the end of 2008.

John Coleman, project manager for contractor Cofely − which won a 40-year concession to design, build, finance and operate the Energy Centre in April 2008 − explains: “We effectively designed the building around the equipment. The site has a small footprint so we had to build up rather than out.”

Piling started in September 2008. In total 218 concrete continuous flight auger piles, the majority of which were 22m in length and varying in diameter between 450mm, 650mm and 750mm, were installed.

Then more than 500t of steel was used to erect the frame of the building, which is 45m tall at its highest point − resembling a miniature version of London’s iconic Tate Modern art gallery.

“We effectively designed the building around the equipment. The site has a small footprint so we had to build up rather than out.”

John Coleman, Cofely

Traditional construction methods tell you that now is the time to add walls and a roof to the building, but the team behind the Energy Centre decided to leave that until the very end, allowing them to install the equipment much more easily.

“The advantage of the construction is that it is very much demountable. It allows us to change the technology inside as it moves on,” says Coleman. “That’s the kind of flexible design we wanted.”

The ground floor holds spark ignition gas engines, ammonia electric chillers and the boilers that will drive the centre’s Combined Cooling, Heat and Power (CCHP) plant.

“The boilers weight 100t each and are transported down from Scotland,” explains Coleman.

“The gas engines weigh around 70t each. On the first floor are the two-stage waste heat boilers and on the top floor you have the air handling and ventilation, switchgear and double effect absorption chillers.


The ground floor of the new building will house the spark ignition gas engines, ammonia electric chillers and the boilers.

The two-stage waste heat boilers will be on the first floor and above them air handling and ventilation, switchgear and double effect absorption chillers.


weight of the boilers

In August five cooling towers − each the size of a small house − were lifted into place as the first major plant to be installed at the Energy Centre.

Coleman continues: “The main equipment is at the front so there’s access for removal. We will bring it all in over two months, load up the building then close it from outside.”

Meanwhile, the design team is working on the secondary steelwork, which is manufactured straight from the drawings, numbered and then brought to the site to be installed in a Legolike modular way.

“The biomass boilers will contribute the lion’s share of the 20% renewable energy target that is in force across the park.”

Simon Wright, Olympic Delivery Authority

Coleman says: “From the drawings to installation is around six weeks turnaround time. We have just started with that process now, everything is moving along very quickly. “It was a risk building it all this way, especially with the weather, but luckily it has worked out for us.”

The biomass boilers included in the Energy Centre complex are situated in an existing Edwardian building − a former sweet factory, adjacent to the new building (see box, above).

These burn woodchip to generate heat and the CCHP plant is used to capture the heat generated by the electricity production. In the case of the Energy Centre, it is designed to capture enough heat during the electricity production process to supply heating and hot water to all the buildings on the Olympic Park.

“The biomass boilers will contribute the lion’s share of the 20% renewable energy target that is in force across the park,” says Olympic Delivery Authority director of infrastructure and utilities Simon Wright.


The Edwardian building, which houses the Energy Centre’s biomass boilers as well as offices, sits at the very edge of the Olympic site and is an original part of the industrial heritage of Hackney Wick.

Contractor Cofely project director John Coleman admits that it would have been easier to tear it down and start from scratch: “Originally we were going to demolish everything, then the town planners persuaded us to retain the old building.”

Half of it will hold the biomass boilers and the other half will be used as office space. “We’ll be demolishing the stairs on the outside, which were an add on to the original building. Inside we’re taking out the floor and building a steel structure to supplement the building. Putting on a new roof, re-glazing the windows and putting in lift shafts,” adds Coleman.

The building will also include a visitor centre, which will teach people about the sustainability of the whole Olympic park and about the importance of biomass boilers and combined cooling and heating power.

During the Games the single biomass boiler has a capacity of 3MW and there is space to install a second one in legacy.

Sustainable design

The Energy Centre is part of a wider family of utility buildings on the Olympic Park, along with the substation and pumping station.

Situated adjacent to the substation − which was the first building completed on the park in October − the buildings have been designed to fit in with the community it will serve in legacy.

Wright says: “In the future we could all be living near these kinds of power stations, so they need to be the kind of buildings that people want to live around.”

The design has been made to contrast with that of the black substation. The cladding is a woven pattern of rusty metal, which will be sealed so the corrosion does not continue − behind it sits a matt rubber surface.

The future

The Energy Centre is due for completion by the end of 2009 and is expected to become operational from early next year when it will begin providing heated water to the Olympic Stadium. Its first big milestone will be the installation of the wooden track inside the Velodrome − set for September 2010.

Wright says: “The wooden track can only be installed once the Energy Centre is up and running because the building needs to be at a constant temperature when it goes in.”

The centre will then hook up to other venues and the village as they are completed.

This will all contribute to the Olympic Delivery Authority’s target that carbon emissions from the built environment in the Park should be reduced by 50%, against 2006 standards’ levels, by 2013.

Meanwhile, the London Development Agency has aspirations to hook the system into the wider system at Barking and though there are no plans to sell electricity into the National Grid, this is also a possibility in legacy.

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