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The climate change contest: Climate emergencies and heat networks

Posted by Kirsty Lambert

Blue Planet Live is back on TV; fuelling the public with avid interest into protecting our planet from climate change. Furthermore, the headlines keep coming in about Councils and towns announcing ‘climate emergencies’.  Our blog looks at the initiatives behind a climate emergency and how they are using heat networks to drive down carbon.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a vital report, warning that if the planet warmed by 1.5C there would be consequences, such as the loss of coral reefs and increased extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods. 

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that record greenhouse gas levels are driving temperatures to “increasingly dangerous levels”. But the slight good news is that the UK is bucking this trend with emissions down by 3%. However, there is still much more that must be done.

A climate emergency

On a local level, many towns and cities have declared ‘climate emergencies’ to reduce carbon emissions in their area and go above the national set targets.

What is a climate emergency?

The term relates to a Council committing to become carbon neutral and has so far seen over 68 Councils declare their commitment to zero carbon.  Currently, the Government has committed to reduce emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. However, Councils are arguing that this does not go far enough and are opting to for zero carbon in its place.

Let’s delve into some of the initiatives and how heat networks might be a mechanism to reduce carbon…

Heat networks and climate change

Heat networks offer a way to supply heat directly to homes and businesses through a network of pipes, rather than supplying the fuel for people to generate heat on-site. They can be the most effective way of supplying low carbon heat to buildings and offer greater convenience and reliability to end-customers. Heat networks also offer flexibility over time, as several different heat sources can supply the same network. High-density housing can make use of heat networks efficiently and is being utilised in environment and sustainability plans put forward by Councils as a main initiative to reduce/remove carbon emissions from their city centres. 

The Greater Manchester five-year environmental plan 

One of the first Councils to announce a climate emergency in November 2018; the Greater Manchester Council’s plan features heavily on themes of decentralised energy and heat networks. The plan released last week, outlines the council’s ambitions for the next five years feeding into the city-region’s objective to become carbon neutral by 2038. The plan contains five challenges:

Challenge one: Mitigating climate change

Challenge two: Air quality

Challenge three: Production and consumption of resources

Challenge four: Natural environment

Challenge five: Resilience and adaptation to the impacts of climate change

The plan was developed on the back of research carried out in 2018, and is intended to put Manchester on a path to ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2038, initiating an immediate programme of mitigation delivering an annual average of 15% cuts in emissions.

Bristol district heating

In November 2018, the Council declared a “climate emergency” and backed a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. This means the city has the most ambitious emission targets of the UK’s Core Cities Group and will mean radical policy implications in coming years.

To play their part in the action against climate change; Bristol City Council is driving its neutral city by using decentralised energy networks. The new heat network, that broke ground last year, is divided into different sections that cover areas across the city and is planned to provide low carbon heat to homes, businesses and communities across the historic city centre.

Crawley district heat network

A three-phase approach to deliver heat and power across Crawley town centre is planned to help its efforts to become a zero-carbon city by 2050. The first phase was given the green light in December 2018 and is set to provide heat in full by 2020. The heat network will help to significantly reduce energy and carbon emissions for both the Council and organisations connected to the network; generating electricity locally using a CHP plant and using the waste heat to heat buildings and produce hot water.

Stoke-on-Trent's major infrastructure

The city of Stoke-on-Trent is on the cusp of launching a major infrastructure project in the form of a district heat network. It is one of several large-scale projects that the City Council has identified. The project will utilise a geothermal heat source by tapping into water 3km underground, transferring this heat to provide heat and hot water across the city’s network.

Key takeaways

  • The Government has committed to reduce emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050
  • Councils are going beyond this and are committing to becoming zero carbon in its place
  • Over 68 UK councils have now committed to becoming zero carbon and are working on initiatives to achieve this
  • Heat networks are recognised as a low carbon alternative for heat and hot water in high density areas

A Heat Supply You Can Trust: The Key Principles Of The Heat Trust

Kirsty Lambert

Business Development Director at Switch2

A skilled director and leader with both operational and commercial experience, Kirsty has over 10 years’ experience in the community and district heating industry.

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