Our research has shown that district heating has the potential to play an important role in the UK energy system, especially in its move to decarbonisation, but to fulfil this, it must evolve to be able to deliver more and larger schemes.
We know that in European cities, heat networks are a major way of providing heat into buildings. For example, in Germany every town with a population of over 80,000 has at least one heat network. In the UK, heat networks currently only provide 2% of UK space and water heating and unfortunately, these networks have a history of underperformance against design, resulting in higher capital and operating expenditure with lower investment returns.
Because of this, there is less certainty of the potential capacity from district heat networks revenue in the UK when compared to other investment opportunities. The stakeholder network for district heat networks is very complex and requires targeted change in different sectors to overcome existing barriers.
The ETI believes that improving current practice incrementally through “learning by doing” alongside innovation are the primary ways to reduce cost in the deployment of infrastructure networks. The sector needs to deliver schemes more rapidly, more cost effectively and to increase its focus on existing buildings. Our research shows that by increasing district heat networks, then the amount of expensive deep energy efficiency retrofit required in existing buildings decreases.
To make this a reality we see a need for operational frameworks to be developed by the UK central and devolved governments to support the demonstration, knowledge transfer and skills development in the heat sector. There is a balance to be struck between encouraging competition to drive improvements in cost and performance, whilst at the same time standardising the sector to enable common systems and scale, to improve costs. We also believe there is also a role for professional and trade bodies to align with common standards and present a clear, unified message for the market.