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The future of UK heat networks

The UK faces a variety of challenges in terms of tackling heat decarbonisation and implementing effective, low risk options to serve toward meeting 2050 targets. Carbon produced from heat is the single largest contributor to overall emissions in the UK, at 37% of the total per year. Heat networks may have a key part to play in advancing the decarbonisation agenda, connecting homes, business and industry to a web of low-carbon heating alternatives in future.

Ultimately, the government’s vision for heat networks is:

  • To create a long-term, self-sustaining heat network market with a framework that is flexible to accommodate a range of new business models and innovation
  • To develop a range of measures that will facilitate a heat market and upscaled heat networks, including investment, a policy framework, planning, industry regulation and consumer protection
  • To deliver, through the creation of a competitive market, attractive investment opportunities, lowered costs of heating for the consumer and a contribution to decarbonisation targets

However, there has been a relative hiatus in terms of heat network development, due to risks encompassing their development, compared to the rest of Europe. The actions taken across the continent may serve as examples to accelerate the rate of heat decarbonisation and level the playing field.

In this paper, we examine three countries as comparison, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden to infer successes in terms of policy, legislation, regulation and investment opportunities into heat networks that can be translated back across to the UK to aid development and negate associated risks.

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Stuart Leaver, Cornwall Insight and Pixie Energy Analyst commented

“Europe is ahead of the UK in terms of heat network development. In order to catch up and succeed in whole system decarbonisation, investment, development and policy reform will be required. There are clear opportunities to learn from European examples, and this paper seeks to broaden the options the growth of heat networks.”