Adopting heat network zones across the UK will utilise areas with the most affordable and accessible heat
The looming target to meet net-zero by 2050 means there is an increasing pressure to decarbonise our energy systems. According to BEIS, heat in buildings is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, accounting for 23% of total UK emissions. If we apply the right skills and technology, as part of a collaborative approach, we will be able to minimise these emissions, if not completely eradicate them with a shift in how we produce energy.
BEIS have found that heat networks currently provide approximately 2% of UK heat demand. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) provided valuable recommendations to develop frameworks for the government to lead and work towards over time. The CCC recommends that 18% of the UK’s heating will be from heat networks by 2050. Currently, they heat 3% of UK homes. Government have acknowledged the need to accelerate the expansion of heat networks in effectively decarbonising the energy system as part of the UK’s route to net-zero through various grants, loans, private green finance schemes and heat network zoning, thus realising the need to harness heat networks in the energy transition.
It’s imperative we decarbonise how we heat our buildings in a low-cost way to meet our carbon targets, which heat networks will be able to support if we continue to invest in them nationwide.
Heat networks supply heat from a central source to consumers, via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water. They can cover a large area or even an entire city or be fairly local supplying a small cluster of buildings (GOV, 2021). Heat networks are incredibly efficient and will contribute greatly towards reducing carbon emissions as a result from our energy consumption.
BEIS definition of a Heat Network Zone: “a designated area within which heat networks are the lowest cost, low carbon solution for decarbonising heating for an area. Within a zone, certain types of building must connect to their local heat network in a given timeframe.”
A recent consultation has been released by BEIS, calling industry and experts to respond to roll out of heat network zoning across the UK. By authorising specific areas to connect to heat networks as their main source of energy it will allow local-level energy planning that could help areas better prepare for the transition to net zero, reduce overall costs, mitigate risks, and seize local opportunities (BEIS, 2021).
It was recommended by the CCC to expand the rollout of low-carbon heat networks in “heat dense areas like cities, using anchor loads such as hospitals and schools.” The government have echoed this in their zoning solution, which will also support the development of existing and new heat networks in the 2020s. The government is aiming to continue working alongside “local authorities with the powers to identify and designate areas best suited for heat networks as the lowest cost, low-carbon solution”. Zoning will drive demand for heat network connection and grow the market by requiring certain buildings in heat network zones to connect to networks, where it is most cost effective, while working on the ground with local authorities and heat network experts.
The government is aiming to continue working alongside “local authorities with the powers to identify and designate areas best suited for heat networks as the lowest cost, low-carbon solution.” Zoning will drive demand for heat network connection and grow the market by requiring certain buildings in heat network zones to connect to networks, where it is most cost effective, while working on the ground with local authorities and heat network experts. This is a great opportunity for the sector to flourish and should lead to market regulations of heat networks, building trust and certainty in the industry. This in turn will improve confidence in the sector and thereby drive investment, and an upskilling in the green workforce, establishing a positive feedback loop.
Benefits of heat networks include:
· Cost effective, low carbon heat
· Utilises waste heat, highly efficient
· New infrastructure as a catalyst for growth and jobs
· Lower consumer bills than traditional gas boilers
· Flexible energy system that is more reliable
Introducing official zoning for heat networks across the UK will utilise the most opportune areas for these networks, providing a viable solution for decarbonising heat in the most cost-effective and energy efficient areas.