Heat Networks ‘Vital’ To Kick-Start Heat Decarbonisation

Heat Networks ‘Vital’ To Kick-Start Heat Decarbonisation

In order to further facilitate the decarbonisation of the heat sector in the UK, central and local government must take action now and kick-start an infrastructure revolution that centres around heat networks.

This is the conclusion drawn from a new report by progressive policy think-tank IPPR, which has said that low-carbon heating for buildings in the country has dropped well behind the decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity system.

Heat networks supply lots of different buildings from one central heat generation site, an approach that differs radically to the separate gas boilers that the majority of people currently have in their homes. Such schemes are already in place around the world, such as in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe.

They can be fed from numerous different heat sources, which means that there is greater flexibility where decarbonising the heat sector is concerned. It also means that the reliance on imported gas can be reduced.

IPPR has stated that heat networks could constitute at least ten per cent of total heat demand come the year 2030, providing up to 81,000 jobs annually and facilitating £22 billion of private investment in the UK economy.

Research fellow Josh Emden said: “If the UK is going to reduce carbon emissions from heating, then heat networks will need to be an important part of the mix of technologies we use in future. Coordinated action between central and local governments could go a long way in supporting this sector’s development. With up to 81,000 jobs at stake, this is exactly the kind of opportunity that should align with what the government’s industrial strategy is trying to achieve.”

Last month (March 13th), a new district heating task force was launched by the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), part of a new initiative to help deliver a subsidy-free heat network market that offers strong protections to consumers. The task force will give recommendations on how industry and government can collaborate to produce a long-lasting market framework where heat networks compete for investment alongside other utilities, forgoing the need for further subsidies come the year 2021.

In all, three key challenges will be addressed by the task force: ensuring that heat networks have similar risk profiles to power, water and new gas; looking into the challenges posed by the natural monopoly of this kind of network (including contract length, competition and so on); and understanding the main strategic opportunities to aid facilitation of the expansion of district heating at local government level.

Dr Tim Rotheray, director of the ADE, explained that heat and hot water will always be required by homes and businesses, and a heat network infrastructure will provide a “future-proof” investment that will deliver for consumers. However, it’s vital that this investment framework is correct to ensure further investment certainty and better customer protection.

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