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Heat networks the answer for urban housing emissions

Switch2 Energy says heat networks are the logical choice for greener high density housing developments, in order to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets.

Richard Slee.

Disconnecting new homes from the gas grid by 2025 and accelerating heat network deployment in towns and cities are two of the radical recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its new report Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming.

“Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems,” warns the CCC, which sets out a broad range of measures that UK, Wales and Scotland governments can take to deliver on a proposed new net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050.

Richard Slee, chief executive of Switch2, explains: “In high density housing in towns and cities, it’s environmentally reckless to heat each home with an individual gas boiler where higher efficiency, low or zero emission heat networks would be viable.

“The urgent need to decarbonise heat can no longer be ignored and the CCC has sounded the clarion call for more climate friendly alternatives to gas. This includes wider deployment of heat networks, which are fuel neutral and can work on hydrogen, heat pumps, or other sustainable energy technologies.”

The climate change watchdog’s proposed net zero target is designed to end the UK’s contribution to global warming and deliver on its Paris Agreement commitment. This would build on the current legally enforceable 2050 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent (against a 1990 baseline).

Recommendations cover all areas of society and the economy – from turning down the thermostat to 19 degrees Celsius in winter, to developing carbon capture and storage infrastructure, improving building insulation and accelerating the roll-out of electric vehicles.

The report states that lower costs of green technology mean that achieving net zero emissions can now be delivered at the same economic cost that politicians accepted when they passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.

The CCC states that “a fully-fledged strategy for decarbonised heat must be developed in 2020” to reduce average heating emissions to below 0.1 tCO2e in 2050.

Mr Slee adds: “If policymakers adopt the CCC's recommendations, the housing industry has a mountain to climb in ensuring that the share of low carbon heating increases from 4.5 per cent today to 90 per cent in 2050.

“Heat networks have a crucial role to play in providing greener, more affordable energy, but these are complex infrastructure projects and developers must factor them into their planning as soon as possible. The government’s £320 million Heat Network Investment Project is already helping to unlock new district and community heating schemes and we are especially pleased that the funding is now also available to private sector developers.

“There are also big opportunities for existing heat network operators to improve their emissions performance by ensuring proper insulation and using smart control and heat metering systems to drive energy efficiency. In addition, it is relatively easy to upgrade plant to transition to cleaner new technologies such as hydrogen and heat pumps.”

The government has welcomed the report, but not yet accepted its recommendations. Energy secretary Greg Clark said: “To continue the UK’s global leadership we asked the Committee on Climate Change to advise the government on how and when we could achieve net zero. This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.”

Switch2 Energy supplies 70,000 residents and 180 clients across 500 heat networks. Its end-to-end service includes equipment design, manufacture and supply, metering, billing and pay-as-you-go, maintenance, energy centre management and customer services.

9 May 2019

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