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Heat Network Zoning Pilot

A map of Coventry showing heat networks

CSE develops an expert modelling solution for government Heat Network Zoning proposals

Project duration: January 2023 ongoing

The Research & Analysis team at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has developed new modelling software to support the UK government’s Heat Network Zoning Pilot. The software combines high-resolution mapping data with sophisticated demand, network optimisation and zoning models to automate the identification of heat network zones within individual cities across the UK.

This will allow heat networks to be better targeted on neighbourhoods where they will make most difference. It will also mean they can be built quicker and more economically.

Our methodology involves using different data such as building type, size, and existing energy use to help identify where zones should be. To develop this methodology, we’re working with 28 English cities and towns to test and refine how it works. The findings from this pilot will be used to finalise the model and we’ll provide further information on this in our consultation.

The heat network zones identified as part of this work will then help to focus more detailed heat network feasibility analysis in locations with the highest potential.

Our ambition is for the new software to play an instrumental role in supporting the government’s definition and deployment of heat network zones – a critical part of our journey to a low carbon future.

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. Heat networks can comprise several kilometres of pipework. Heat network zoning involves assessing the combined heating needs of all the buildings in an area, identifying what sources of heat generation are available, and then identifying the subset of the demands which should be networked in a least-cost decarbonisation solution. Areas in which networks dominate these least-cost solutions are then designated as ‘heat network zones’.

Heat networks can comprise several kilometres of pipework.

For heat networks to be effective, the right mix of buildings is critical. It is also imperative that local stakeholders are engaged, encouraged and willing to connect to the heat network. As well as developing the technical model to underpin zones, CSE has recently worked with the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) and SE2 to deliver qualitative research with local building owners to understand their attitudes and willingness to be connected.

How heat network zoning will make a difference

Heat networks are critical to decarbonisation, with the Committee on Climate Change estimating (in our view conservatively) that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 to support net zero targets.

We are nowhere near this goal and there is a huge need to support local authorities and energy system planners to identify the best locations for heat networks in their areas. The Heat Network Zoning Pilot will help the government Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to understand and plan how to develop heat network zones to provide the lowest-cost zero carbon heat to end-users through regulation, mandating powers and market support.

Heat network zoning model

CSE’s role in the pilot has been to develop modelling software to identify heat network zones within individual cities based on the heat demand characteristics of local buildings and geography. Our model uses innovative heat mapping and demand estimation techniques and a unique network optimisation algorithm originally developed for our THERMOS software, to automate the zoning process.

The Zoning software works by dividing an area into chunks of around 1000 buildings, solving them simultaneously (using substantial cloud computing resources to model the millions of variables involved), and then combining the output to produce a single set of results covering the whole area.

Alongside the use of national datasets and a database of common baseline assumptions, the model also accommodates adjustable inputs to reflect local conditions in different cities. To facilitate this, the government has been coordinating activities with consultants across several UK cities to engage local stakeholders in preparation for future zoning deployment.

Now that the initial phase of modelling work is complete, a second phase is underway for roll-out and testing of the model on 28 pilot cities and towns across the UK.

Our heat network zoning work is the culmination of over 15 years of heat mapping and modelling at CSE, including development of the London Heat Map, zoning techniques for Local Area Energy Planning studies and development of THERMOS, which is revolutionising heat network planning across the UK, Europe and beyond.


Developed by CSE, THERMOS (Thermal Energy Resource Modelling and Optimisation System), is an open-source web-based tool. It reduces the time and cost associated with heat network planning, producing results for free in a fraction of the time compared to existing methods.

THERMOS is also playing a key role in our Horizon 2020 project, Act!onHeat. This offers free heat decarbonisation planning support to local authorities in the UK and across the EU.

The Heat Network Zoning Pilot builds on work CSE previously undertook for the government’s City Decarbonisation Delivery Programme. Here, an initial zoning model was developed and trialled on six UK cities, with further analysis on each zone delivered using the THERMOS tool.

CSE’s Research & Analysis team builds open analytical tools and models to generate improved insights into sustainable energy solutions, lowering the costs of action. Our tools and models support better understanding, improved decision-making and more appropriate and cost-effective action by policymakers and practitioners at local and national levels.

We understand the complexity of decarbonising UK heat systems. We’re uniquely placed to provide insights because we look at things holistically. We see the connections across the groups we work with: from householders and communities, to government and the energy industry.

Find out how you can work with us, contact