This article introduces the goals of ‘Heat: Vision 2030’ and how to activate the deployment of city-scale climate change mitigation through heat networks.
The Vision: abundant low carbon and affordable heat
What are we trying to achieve? I think we all agree that we want zero carbon, abundant (accessible and affordable by all), reliable long-term heating for all.
No more carbon emissions, no more fuel poverty and no more short-term fixes.
We need to include all stakeholders, embed the ability to leverage diverse energy sources and adopt flexible technology solutions that are designed to incorporate continuous improvement.
Let’s collaborate, empower and let the best ideas flourish.
The momentum behind heat networks is growing- let’s make sure it is maintained
Delivering successful heat networks requires a collaborative and generous approach to design whilst embedding offtake surety into the model.
The ambitions are big. Across the U.K. we expect a nine-fold increase in district heating by 2050 to meet its net-zero emissions target. The Netherlands is seeing a 17-fold increase as it moves completely away from natural gas in homes.
While we still have some time on the clock, here are some thoughts on the reasons for avoiding unenforced errors.
The purpose of, ‘Heat: Vision 2030’, is to provide a positive map of what is possible, now. We want to contribute ideas, create debate and influence policy. We want the UK to pursue pragmatic and powerful action to deliver heat networks across the country by 2030.
Enough of us now accept and understand the scale of the climate crisis. The know-how, the technology, the modelling, the finances are all there. The biggest challenge left is shifting our mindset from, ‘I’d like to do this’, to, ‘I have to, I will do this’.
With respect to heat networks, we have to address the mountainous risks associated with heat networks and reduce them to molehills. The two biggest are related to inaccurate mapping and surety of offtake.
Too often problems are embedded in the design process. The ‘Heat: Vision 2030’ project is about asking how can we address these problems and eradicate them, leaving only the cream. We try and ask questions and invite those of us with a stake in delivering and using heat networks to share, discuss and challenge what makes a heat network successful in the early stage. This will help local and national policy to effectively support heat network deployment where it is needed most.
And where is that help required? Offtake surety is the fundamental nut that must be cracked.
Large-scale, meaningful, investments will only be made when all buildings on a heat network use the heat available. The option of sticking with natural gas, for example, just doesn’t cut it. There are a lot of ways to deliver offtake surety. A carbon tax will help but with gas at such low costs, even a 100% tax makes it a low cost alternative. In light of such huge massive market failures, let’s look at other levers. In city centres, building air quality standards would help. How about local government mandating a requirement zero emission buildings by 2030?
False Choices between social and environmental equality
We need to liberate ourselves from needless compromises that put brakes on achieving our goals.
An example of a needless compromise, a self-defeating compromising, is to allow domestic gas boilers to be fitted into new builds through to 2025. The argument here is that we need cheap gas to alleviate fuel poverty. Approximately 15% of households in England and Wales and 25% in Scotland are in fuel poverty. To resolve this problem we are often presented with a false choice- less fuel poverty or less climate change. We need to change the mindset. We can eradicate fuel poverty as well as carbon emissions. We can make low carbon heat affordable.
In the case of heat networks, the choice we are given is the same. We are told that because heat networks will provide costly heat versus the status quo, we should give end users the option.
Firstly, this is a crisis. In an emergency we need to jettison the easy options- they cannot be on the table. Secondly, there are plenty of ways to reduce the cost of heat to end users. No doubt, some of them are still waiting to be discovered. Finally and fundamentally, fossil fuels cannot be a first choice, or a second choice. At best, they should be back-up and peak load in exceptional circumstances.
You, Me… Everybody
And let everybody be a part of this. By that I mean our companies, clients and collaborators but even more so I mean us; you, me and our neighbours.
The political will to activate and deploy heat networks can be accelerated if our communities are given the chance to learn, feedback, criticise and inform what they want and how we can help them achieve it.
The, ‘Heat: Vision 2030’, view is that we need to get inside the heads of city-centre residents, not just the supply chain.
The psychology seems to be that once you take the step of beginning the conversation and facilitating what the community needs and wants; and taking the time to explain your own position then you can really make things happen.
We talk about a levy on the gas bills, we talk about a carbon price. Of course, financial incentives help but by working at the grass roots level I am sure we can bring better solutions to bear. A thousand, ten thousand, voices in each community saying, ‘Yes’.
We all want to do this. Now we must move our mindset to we have to do this. And we have to do this together, as the heat network sector and we need to spread the message far and wide- we are ready, we have the tools and we can deliver. https://www.greenumbrellas.co.uk/