Bridget Woodman and Richard Lowes consider the decarbonisation of the UK’s heat sector – and the lack of political commitment to achieve it. Extensive, or even complete, decarbonisation of the heat sector is vital if the UK is to meet its 2050 commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act (CCA). The three key options at the moment are increased electrification, heat provision from renewable-fuelled district heating networks, or substituting hydrogen or biogas for natural gas, although perhaps geography and resources could also play a factor. Whatever the end point, it is clear that the future role of natural gas, which currently provides more than 80% of our heat, will be very different. As with any large system, changing the way heat is produced and provided will take time. This means the building blocks for a decarbonised heat sector have to be put in place now if the challenge is to be met in 30 years’ time. But as with much of the UK’s energy policy, political commitment is currently sadly lacking. There are a number of trial projects for heat networks, there are desk studies for hydrogen and the underperforming Renewable Heat Incentive has recently been reformed. But there is no real sense in government of any urgency in pushing for decarbonised heat, even though, as the Committee on Climate Change highlights, meeting the CCA’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets is unlikely without solid extra heat policies. Something has to change soon. Lack of government focus does not mean that there are no opportunities to influence the rate and direction of change. The developing price control for gas networks is one such opportunity to shape thinking and investment around the future role of gas networks in a decarbonising society.
New Power 18th Oct 2018 read more »