POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology)
A heat network provides heating and hot water to an apartment, commercial site or series of buildings close together. It can also provide cooling. There is interest in using them to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. This POSTnote looks at the technology of heat networks and their sources of heat. It looks at considerations when building new networks. It also outlines a potential future market framework.
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Generating heat and hot water in buildings accounts for a large part of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is because most heat is made by burning natural gas. Emissions from heating will need to reduce to almost zero by 2050 to meet UK climate change targets. Heat networks are likely to be a part of this emissions reduction.
There are currently around 14,000 UK heat networks and half a million customers. This is low compared to some other parts of Europe and abroad. However, the UK Government has a target for heat networks to supply around a fifth of heat by 2050. To achieve this a new market framework is being created. This is needed to increase investment and put consumer protections in place for heat network customers that are currently lacking.
Key points in this briefing include:
- Heat networks can reduce CO2 emissions from buildings by using heat pumps, waste heat, geothermal heat or other sources. Most currently use natural gas.
- They could technically provide 20% of UK heat by 2050. They provide 2-3% today.
- Heat network developers have a few key considerations. These include the location of new networks and planning policy. They also include how much heat demand there will be and the design of buildings connected to the network. Costs and other commercial considerations are also key.
- On average, heat network customers are as satisfied and have equal or cheaper bills than gas and electric customers. Some customer have had bad experiences in the past.
- The UK Government expects to publish a market framework for heat networks in 2022. It will put consumer protection in place and aims to increase private investment.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including
- Asad Kwaja, AECOM
- Charlotte Owen, Association for Decentralised Energy*
- Arran Mornin, BEIS*
- Dr Corinna Abesser, British Geological Survey*
- Phil Jones, Building Low Carbon Solutions*
- Dr Meysam Qadrdam, Cardiff University*
- Dr Charlotte Adams, Durham University
- John Armstrong, formerly E.On
- Bindi Patel, formerly Heat Trust
- Chris Twinn, London Energy Transformation Initiative*
- Dr Madeleine Morris, Imperial College London (EnergyREV)*
- Clara Bagenal George, London Energy Transformation Initiative
- Matt Hindle, Energy Networks Association
- Peter Kocen, Energy Networks Association
- Matthew Lipson, Energy Systems Catapult
- Mark Sommerfeld, REA
- Samuel Stevenson, formerly REA
- Scottish Government*
- Simon Woodward, UK District Energy Association*
- Ugbana Oyet, UK Parliament
- Dr David Boardman, University of Birmingham
- Dr Jess Britton, University of Exeter*
- Dr Richard Lowes, University of Exeter*
- Prof Simon Rees, University of Leeds
- Dr Sean Jones, University of Nottingham*
- Prof Bob Critoph, University of Warwick*
- Rufus Ford, Vatenfall*
- Andrew Hirst, Womble Bond Dickinson
- Members of the POST Board
* Denotes contributors who acted as external reviewers for the POSTnote
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