Greater understanding could unlock support for heat network zones
Owners and occupiers value the potential of heat networks to contribute towards addressing climate change and achieving other social, health and economic benefits.
That is just one of the findings outlined in a new social research report produced by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) in collaboration with ACE Research and SE2, on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The research explores how heat network zoning policy could best be developed and implemented and includes views from groups including local authorities, building owners and residents across Bristol, Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham.
Heat Network Zones
A heat network is a system of insulated water pipes that takes heat (and sometimes cooling) from a central source and delivers it efficiently to nearby buildings to provide temperature control and warmth.
Speaking about the new research, Nicky Hodges, project lead at CSE, said “Heat networks are a critical part of our journey to a low carbon future. But changes to our energy system require combined action from UK government policy, industry practice, local authorities and home and building owners. To reach net zero, everyone needs to understand and buy in to the changes needed. This new research shows where people are in their understanding of heat networks and will help inform what needs to be done next in terms of policy and practice.
“There’s a positive opportunity but we need action soon. Our research found that residents and building owners are open to learning more about heat networks and how zoning can help deliver low carbon living in their area, welcoming the potential benefits for health, the environment and cost of living. Residents and non-domestic building owners want to know more about the costs and practicalities of connecting to a heat network.”
The government’s Heat Network Transformation identifies Zoning as a route to accelerating the deployment and expansion of heat networks by creating clarity about where the networks are needed as part of a least-cost heat decarbonisation programme. It will enable heat networks to meet their full economic potential and support the move to zero-carbon heating.
In other ongoing work for BEIS, CSE is developing a robust but flexible approach for identifying zones. The approach will then be used to identify ‘heat network zones’. Buildings within these zones would be required to connect to the network where it is the most efficient heating solution available. The zones will give clarity to building owners and occupiers about the most suitable option for decarbonising heat supply for their building.
The research highlights that:
- Stakeholders across a range of sectors are concerned about the impacts of climate change and are willing to consider connection to heat networks as a method of decarbonisation, once they understand what heat networks are and how they can help them modernise their energy systems.
- Residents value the impact of decarbonisation in terms of better health, cost and environmental concerns, as well as its ability to help ease the burden of fuel poverty. Public and private sector stakeholders are more likely to value connection to heat networks as a way of achieving net zero targets.
- Local authorities are likely to broadly support zoning if it is the best and most cost-effective route to decarbonisation and support mandatory connections for public sector buildings and new builds where this is low carbon, locally appropriate and makes strong economic sense.
- Private sector building owners with a large heat load generally support connection to a heat network, subject to cost.
Ultimately, the study shows that although most building owners, occupiers and residents recognise the importance of climate change, their understanding of how heat networks can be used to effectively decarbonise heat across large swathes of the UK is more mixed.
Kieran Sinclair, Heat Networks Policy Lead at the ADE, said: “It’s reassuring to see varied groups of stakeholders recognise the importance of clean energy solutions, but it is critical that residents, businesses, local councils and wider government clearly understand that heat networks offer the single most effective, affordable and deliverable way of decarbonising the nation’s towns and cities.
“As the report highlights, greater information about heat networks and their significant contribution to heat decarbonisation is likely to be a highly effective way to build support for heat networks and zoning policies – once you are aware of what heat networks are and what they can deliver, they truly are an obvious solution to many of the challenges we are facing.”