Take no regrets actions to decarbonise heat

Following the launch of National Grid ESO’s Future Energy Scenarios (FES) 2019 report, Kayte O’Neill, Head of Strategy and Regulation, continues to explore its four key messages. Today, she looks at key message two, heat decarbonisation.

Heat decarbonisation pathways are uncertain and vary by region. However, there are clear, urgent no regrets actions that can remove barriers to deploying solutions at scale.

Gas is used to heat most buildings, offices and houses so a major element of reaching the UK’s carbon target by 2050 involves decarbonising our heat pathways. We would need to move away from this fossil fuel and to adopt technologies that decarbonise heat, such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers.

No regrets actions

We need to take no regrets actions immediately. Firstly, we need policy action to improve the thermal efficiency of homes and to accelerate the installation of low carbon technologies, an example of which is heat pumps. This plan needs to consider regional differences such as existing infrastructure, geography and existing housing stock.

Secondly, from a consumer point of view, there are lots of opportunities to make changes to the way we heat our homes. More than 23 million homes will need to install new low-carbon heating solutions by 2050 and, over the same period, at least 85 per cent of homes will need to become more thermally efficient, being rated at EPC Class C or higher. To get to this point requires raising appliance efficiency standards and rolling out at least 2.5m domestic heat pumps by 2030.

To put this into context, in 2018, there were 22 million average homes with an EPC rating of D, that used a combustion gas boiler, used 2.8MWh of electricity a year for things like appliances and lighting, and 14.6MWh of gas for heating and hot water. In comparison, by 2050, at least 5.7m homes could adopt electric heat pumps, completely eliminating their gas use, and consuming just 5.3MWh of electricity per year.

Heating technologies

There are lots of other technologies that can help to decarbonise heat. Hybrid heat pumps feature a smaller electric heat pump, alongside a gas boiler; biogases created from organic matter are low-carbon and can be mixed into the gas network alongside natural gas; hydrogen boilers work similarly to gas boilers, but use hydrogen instead; and district heating schemes could be used to distribute heat from a central location using insulated pipes.

So, while heat decarbonisation is perhaps one of the most challenging hurdles the country faces, in solving this, we will truly transform our energy landscape to one that can deliver net zero carbon emissions.

The take away is that while heat decarbonisation pathways are uncertain and they do vary by region, there are clear, urgent no regrets actions that can remove barriers to deploying solutions at scale.

For more information on future energy and heat decarbonisation, check out this 60 second video from ESO Insights Lead Juliette Richards. http://bit.ly/2yizkCp