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Heat Networks

The ADE and ACE Research welcome the publication of BEIS heat network skills review

21 September 2020

The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) welcomes the publication of the Heat Network Skills Review report by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The research explores current capability and capacity within the heat network sector, considering the skills implications of future growth to help inform national policy on skills in the sector.  The full report can be found here:

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has identified heat networks as a crucial element on the path towards decarbonising heat, estimating that they will need to service 18% of the country’s heat demand by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost-effectively. Currently, heat networks supply just 2% of the UK’s heat demand, and so their contribution will need to be scaled up considerably. 

Heat network sector growth required to support our climate targets is supported by both government and industry investment – as seen with the recent launch of the Heat Network Industry Council which estimates that 20-35,000 new direct jobs will be created - yet there remains a risk that the supply chain may not attain capability and capacity to keep up with market growth. 

BEIS commissioned IFF Research, in partnership with ACE Research and Sweco UK, to undertake research regarding skills requirements for the sector. The research set out to investigate the existing skills base and how it could be upscaled to meet future demand; the current and future capability to deliver the volume of heat networks required during the transition between high and low temperature systems; the risks to deployment due to skills gaps; the speed at which the supply chain could be mobilised; and the role of government in supporting the growth in the sector’s skills base.   

The research findings suggest that the industry is relatively well equipped – from a capacity perspective – to meet current demand in the sector for heat network development. The exception to this is with senior project management and engineering roles, and similar to construction and engineering sectors, there is a lack of diversity in what is a male-dominated industry.  

Kelly Greer, ACE Research Director at the ADE said; 

Looking ahead to the transition to net zero, the sector is ill-equipped to respond to the surge in demand for skills that will be required to meet the expected growth of the sector.  

In the short-term, there is expected to be a growing need for surveyors, meter providers and installers, whilst in the longer term, there will likely be an increased demand for energy consultants, facilities and estates managers and those in customer service roles as maintenance and upgrades of heat network developments become more common. What is certainly true is that across all occupations, demand is likely to increase considerably due to the amount of development anticipated.  

Our research identified clear pockets of skills gaps in the industry, while also pointing towards skills needs that are likely to become more important as the sector evolves. Parts of the sector already struggle to adequately fill project management and project delivery/development roles, as well as key technical roles, ranging from master planning of heat networks to the design and implementation of specialist control systems.  

The research also looks at the current and future capability to deliver the volume of heat networks required during the transition, from high temperature fossil fuel systems to low temperature and low carbon systems, and how the industry’s skills base can be increased to meet these demands.  

Dr Tanja Groth, Director of Urban Energy at SWECO UK said; 

Looking forwards, the transition to low temperature systems will require installers to adapt to working with different systems. In addition, the expansion in the industry’s use and range of waste heat sources will pose wider demands for designers and engineers, as well as commercial and legal challenges for lawyers and project delivery managers. Digital skills will also hold greater value as the sector seeks to harness developing technology to support its expansion.  

This research recommends more standardisation of competencies and qualifications in core roles within the sector, particularly among installers, technicians and design engineers, and identifies a need to develop heat network specific training infrastructure at all education levels and supporting small employers and local authorities in particular. 

In order to meet the anticipated capacity and capability requirements, evidence suggests that the sector needs to expand training, better facilitate the transfer of skills from other sectors, increase diversity within the workforce, and be more visible and attractive to young people through greater prominence in further and higher education institutions.  

Andrew Skone James, Director at IFF Research said; 

Central and devolved governments have a central role in facilitating skills development across the sector. Our research has recommended a policy and sector scoping exercise, incorporating close collaboration between industry and local and national governments, to explore the feasibility of recommendations designed to support the industry to meet its skills needs. 

The evidence suggests that to meet skills demands, training and qualifications will need to be developed and contain sufficient heat network specific content. This includes apprenticeships, degree content and more general CPD.  

Our research identified examples of best practice collaboration that could be replicated across or transferred into the heat network sector. For example, regional training partnerships between the Heat Academy and colleges in Stoke-on-Trent and Bridgend, both of which are located near ongoing heat network development areas – should be expanded to meet skills needs. Industry has a key role to play in such initiatives, as seen with ADE members Uniper and SSE’s involvement with the Heat Academy.   

The workforce could also be mobilised through the transfer of skills from other sectors (including those working in high carbon skills sectors with considerable skills overlap), or migration from countries with an existing skills base in heat networks.  


About the ADE and ACE Research 

The Association for Decentralised Energy is setting the vision of a local, efficient, low carbon energy system which enables energy users to make the choices which work for them. The Association has more than 160 members active across a range of technologies and markets and is widely recognised as one of the leading industry bodies in the sustainable energy sector.  

The Heat Networks Industry Council brings together leaders of the heat networks industry to support Government in achieving its vision of achieving a sustainable industry. The Council’s offer to Government, launched in June 2020, identified measures to create jobs and investment, cut costs, set out the industry’s commitment to decarbonisation, create more liveable, smarter cities and drive excellence in customer service and standards  The Council has been established by the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) who provide the Secretariat. More information is available at

The research team at the ADE - ACE Research - has a strong reputation for high quality work in the areas of policy research and evaluation, specifically in respect to frameworks for implementing national, regional and local energy policy in buildings, barriers to and opportunities for effective implementation and the roles of different stakeholders therein.

Spokespeople available for interview and presentations: 

Kelly Greer (ACE Research Director, the Association for Decentralised Energy) is a social researcher with over 16 years’ experience in sustainability, fuel poverty and carbon reduction sectors. She leads the independently funded research team at the ADE, working across a range of decentralised energy projects.  

Andrew Skone James (Director, IFF Research) is a social and policy researcher with 10 years’ experience working for public sector clients. He has led some of the largest skills research exercises in the UK over this period, including the Employer Skills Survey and the Employer Perspectives Survey, both for Department for Education.  Furthermore, he leads IFF Research’s Energy and Environmental team, undertaking studies for Environment Agency, BEIS and UKRI. 

Dr Tanja Groth (Director of Urban Energy, SWECO) is leads the Urban Energy division at Sweco, responsible for supporting our public and private sector clients deliver climate action cost-effectively. As the Lead Economist in the Energy and Environment division, Tanja has an established track record delivering successful projects and programmes in the UK and internationally, advancing thought leadership across financial and socio-economic decision-making and policy. She is supported by her team of experts in energy use, energy generation and carbon and sustainability.

Related ADE publications  

For further information please contact: 

Lucy Symons- Jones, Head of External Affairs , The ADE, Tel: +44 (0)7 906 445 775, 

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