WWF UK Blog  

Time to turn up the heat


Most of us are familiar with the need to clean up our electricity to reduce carbon emissions but what is often forgotten is the need to have cleaner energy heating our homes and businesses.

A workman fitting solar thermal panels for heating water, to a house roof in Ambleside, Cumbria, UK © WWF-UK / CanonA workman fitting solar thermal panels for heating water, to a house roof in Ambleside, Cumbria, UK © WWF-UK / Canon

Heat is responsible for a high proportion of carbon emissions – 32% of the UK’s carbon emissions to be precise. This is because the majority of the heat we use us fuelled by fossil fuels, in fact 70% of all heat comes from natural gas.

Given the significance of heat in our energy system and the amount of emissions from it you would think that it would be much higher up the list of priorities to reduce emissions than it currently is. But no, heat has long been the poor relation of energy policy and unless you count energy efficiency measures, carbon emissions from heating our homes and buildings have been pretty much ignored.

Decarbonising our heat sector is in many ways more complex than tackling the electricity grid. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of heating systems are individual systems delivering heat to one home or business. With 27 million homes and 1.8 million non-domestic buildings in the UK that makes for a lot of individual stakeholders when compared with dealing with six big energy companies.

Homes, business and industry also require different “grades” of heat. The higher the temperature needed for a particular use the higher the grade of heat required. For example, hot water requires a higher grade of heat than space heating while some industrial processes need very high grade heat to produce some of the consumables we need. This adds a further layer of complexity.

The delivery of heat is another factor with low-carbon solutions dependent upon the location of homes and businesses. This means that the most effective solutions in some areas will be community systems – a big shift away from what we are used to today.

Despite the complexity, none of these things are insurmountable and alongside the challenges it presents us with many opportunities. But we won’t be able to realise these opportunities without Government intervention.

To better understand the issue of low carbon heat and how we can deliver it WWF-UK commissioned a report looking at the barriers and solutions and what needs to happen to deploy those solutions. Warm homes, not warm words found that to deliver on our 2030 carbon budget commitments we will need to:

  • Have 4 million homes heated by heat pumps – this compares to 406,000 currently installed in homes;
  • 1 million homes will need to be connected to heat networks; and
  • 300,000 homes will need to have biomass boilers installed.

But that is only part of the story. To make sure we are only using the heat we need and not wasting any through leaky windows and doors we will also need to prioritise energy efficiency measures ensuring that:

  • All remaining 4.5 million cavity walls are insulated;
  • All remaining 10.3 million lofts are insulated;
  • 3.5 million solid walls are insulated (40% of all the UK solid wall homes); and
  • That heating controls are installed in all homes

Therefore, WWF is calling on Government to:

  • Provide a balance of regulation and incentives to increase uptake of renewable heat technologies including extending the Renewable Heat Incentive to provide certainty to industry.
  • Drive greater action on energy efficiency. This includes making energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority and legislation that sets a timeline for regulating improvements in energy efficiency.
  • Elevate the roll-out of low-carbon heat networks to a national infrastructure priority.

There is no doubt that all of this is a challenge but then again so is tackling climate change and the situation has never been more urgent.

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