The tough challenge of heat decarbonisation mustn't be forgotten by global policymakers at the UN climate change conference, says heat network specialist Ian Allan, of Switch2 Energy.
The UN secretary general warned conference goers that the planet is nearing "the point of no return". This opinion is backed up by many scientific studies, including the latest data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which suggest this year is on course to be the second or third warmest year ever.
"Significant progress is being made in decarbonising power and there is a real momentum behind the electrification of transport, but the urgent need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from heating is in danger of getting left behind", said Ian Allan, Switch2's Head of Market Strategy.
In the UK, latest statistics reveal that energy use in homes, chiefly from the use of natural gas for heating, hot water and cooking, contributes around 18% of the country's CO2 emissions, which have risen since 2017.
"Lowering carbon emissions from domestic heating is a critical part in achieving the UK's net zero 2050 commitment. This must start by reducing dependence on fossil fuel gas", said Ian Allan. "Most European countries are using a much higher proportion of heat generated from carbon free sources. The UK is considering whether to ban new gas boilers from new homes by 2025, but it's likely that we'll need to go much further and replace gas boilers in all homes to hit the net zero target.
"One of the barriers to reducing dependence on gas heating is the economics of cheaper gas prices relative to electricity, which can be used for low carbon alternatives, such as heat pumps. Gas incurs little carbon tax, with electricity shouldering the major taxation burden of decarbonising the grid. This disparity will slow the transition to cleaner heating methods."
To wean the UK off gas, Switch2 believes the following three options could be alternative solutions:
- Heat networks – a mature technology offering the benefit that they can be deployed now. Heat networks are most effective where there is a dense heat requirement, such as cities and opportunities to take advantage or waste heat and other local heat sources.
- Heat pumps, either in heat networks, or in individual homes in less dense areas
- Hydrogen or bio methane - pumped through the existing gas mains, however, hydrogen is a very immature technology.
Ian Allan continued: "As well as reducing dependence on gas, the UK must tackle its huge heat waste from industrial and commercial processes. This waste heat currently exceeds the UK's total heat demand, but if heat losses can be captured and used locally where needed, then significant emissions savings can be made. Heat networks offer a proven solution to using heat productively close to the point of generation."
Switch2 Energy supplies 80,000 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, through to maintenance, energy centre management and customer services.