Taking the temperature of the UK’s heat networks

03 Mar 2016

UKERC is working with DECC and the Energy Technologies Institute to advance policy thinking on heat networks. UKERC Industry Engagement Manager Amber Sharick, who is leading the project, explains why heat matters.

Discussions around energy policy tend to focus on electricity, be they in the UK or at the EU-level. There are various reasons put forward for this including that the electricity sector is largely regulated and therefore ‘doable’ and decarbonisation of electricity is seen as a means to decarbonising other sectors. That being said, heat has a critical role to play in a future sustainable energy system.

In the EU, heat accounts for around half of energy use and the majority of that is generated from fossil fuels. In the UK, the majority of households rely on individual gas boilers to heat their homes. As much of the building stock in the UK is existing, rather than new, and therefore inefficiently insulated, residential heat issues often get subsumed in discussions of energy efficiency.

However, from local authorities to university and hospital campuses, prioritization of heat often has to do with recognized multiple benefits, including those related to positive health outcomes and mental well-being (see, for example, Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency, IEA, 2015).      

Last year, UKERC started a social media conversation about innovation and transformation in the heat sector. From those initial responses, an ad hoc steering group was formed and a series of high-level, content-based interactions have taken shape, including commenting on the European Commission’s proposed Heating and Cooling Strategy.

The lead academic in this effort has been Janette Webb, Professor of Sociology and Organisations at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Webb is a co-author of Sustainable Urban Energy Policy: Heat and the City which provides an evidence-base for the role of heat in delivering on multiple societal goals; she and her team receive co-funding from UKERC under the theme Energy Systems at Multiple Scales to investigate local energy system governance and the role of local authorities.

With her help, and that of a variety of other key stakeholders, we have identified the need for an event aimed at bringing together leading-edge local authorities with national government as well as key experts, be they in industry or academia, around the topic of heat networks and governance.

The Heat Networks & Governance Issues event on 11-12 April, co-sponsored by DECC, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and UKERC, will bring together approximately 70 stakeholders. Panel sessions will provide ample opportunity for discussion of international best practices, the current state-of-play in the UK, lessons learned from early stage funding, and near-future challenges. £300 million in heat network capital expenditures were included as part of the settlement of the 2015 Budget Review and DECC is in the process of seeking feedback on how this funding should be used; a breakfast session on the second day will provide opportunity for stakeholders to do just that.

The Heat Networks & Governance Issues event is invitation-only. For information, please contact Amber Sharick.