In the UK we spend around £32 bn a year heating our homes and businesses and produce around a third of our greenhouse gases in doing so. Over 90% of our heating systems are fueled by conventional gas boilers. In research at Leeds, we have developed methods to facilitate local authorities to provide low carbon and affordable heat to homes and commercial properties.
Heat networks can provide a low carbon, affordable alternative to conventional heating systems by using a diverse range of heat sources including waste heat from industrial processes, efficient generation through combined heat and power and fuels such as biomass. Retrofitting our existing housing stock and developing new networks presents a complex and enormous infrastructure challenge, but it is one that is key to meeting climate targets.
Through a number of projects and by working with key stakeholders we have identified policy interventions that may unlock development of heat networks in the UK.
1) National energy policy must align with the objectives of local authorities, accounting for non-economic motivations for delivering energy infrastructure such as environmental and social benefits.
2) Heat network infrastructure needs to be valued differently to allow over-sizing in the initial stage of development. This will allow phased expansion to district-scale systems that are more economically and environmentally beneficial.
3) A more systemic approach to policy support for heat networks that recognises that a range of actors’ capabilities and decision stages must be addressed is more likely to be successful.
Our research has led to the development of the Leeds Heat Planning Tool for England and Wales, which offers planners an additional evidence base to support business cases for potential schemes and opens up discussions with stakeholders. The free-to-use tool gives users an initial indication of locations that have the potential to offer viable heat networks and incorporates social benefits such as alleviating fuel poverty.
• We have delivered Leeds Heat Planning Tool, a free-to-use service that offers energy planners a simple way to include social factors from the early stages of developing low carbon and affordable district heating in UK cities.