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Jeff Douglas gives his view on decarbonising heat for UK homes
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Whilst a lot of attention has rightly been given to the most effective and affordable ways of decarbonising the power sector it is also important to fundamentally change the way we heat our homes if the UK is to make the transition to a low carbon future.
Around 20% of the nation’s carbon emissions are generated by domestic heating. Much of the UK’s housing has a low standard of energy efficiency and up to 90% of our 26 million homes could still be around in 2050.
However, whilst improving the efficiency of homes is important, this alone will not deliver the emissions reduction we need. It sounds a daunting task, but we believe measures that substantially reduce heat demand can be a cost-effective system investment – if applied selectively to around 25% of the UK’s housing stock. What’s needed though is a holistic plan, combining these efficiency measures with low carbon heat sources.
The ETI believes there are two main solutions depending on local circumstances, one delivering low carbon heat through heat networks at a local area level and one focussing on individual home systems using electricity for heating.
To deliver these solutions it will be necessary to implement a system level framework to package known but underdeveloped technologies into integrated solutions. This then needs to be translated into local energy strategies taking into account the different needs of different locations.
These strategies need to consider the geographical layout, house types, individual consumer preferences, availability of local energy resources and natural features and constraints. Without having such a strategic framework and design tools in place it would be impossible to build a coherent transition pathway or gain the essential consensus of local consumers.
Recognising this vital requirement, the ETI is developing a set of tools, under the brand of EnergyPath, along with processes which act together to support the systematic assessment of future solutions for local areas.
It will be far from easy to establish new heating solutions that substantially remove natural gas from domestic home heating systems, so compelling consumer propositions and business models will need to be created, and affordability needs will remain a key element of any transition planning.
If changes are to be implemented on such a large scale it is vital that those are not forced on householders but instead their views, preferences and concerns are considered and influence final decisions.
Over the last 18 months we have researched the views of over 2,500 consumers which showed that most don’t want to change how they heat their homes simply because it would reduce carbon emissions.
They did however want to optimise their heating systems before replacing them, and it was clear that different households have different priorities. People want better control of the time, effort and money they spend on their home. They don’t simply want to minimise their running costs.
When contemplating changes on such a scale proper planning and preparation is needed, especially over the next decade as rapid implementation will be required from 2025 to meet the 2050 targets.
During that 25 year period around 26 million homes will require new low carbon installations at the rate of 20,000 per week – the equivalent of upgrading every home in a town the size of Milton Keynes 10 times over each year.
So the real challenge is not so much technology based – but lies around gaining public consensus and trust in the change that is needed.
If we are to successfully deliver near-zero emission homes, it is important to integrate the transition of the energy system into local planning processes to form coherent strategic local plans that link to national objectives.
The importance of the ‘preparedness and confidence building phase’ cannot be over emphasised as a lack of market confidence and delay in building the necessary momentum will inevitably lead to higher costs driven by harder pressed resources, along with missed targets and business opportunities.
Through its SSH programme, the ETI is continuing to invest in building the understanding of consumer needs and the development of energy system product and design tools. Working in partnership with a small group of local authorities it is intended to demonstrate real solutions in real local areas to help inform policy and support the introduction of local strategic energy system plans, consumer products and business models that can help generate the momentum required to achieve 2050 climate goals.
Jeff Douglas is the Strategy Manager for The Energy Technologies Institute.
This blog was kindly replicated with permission from The Energy Technologies Institute. For more information on their project 'Smart Systems and Heat: Decarbonising Heat for UK Homes' click here.