Energy customers who find themselves paying over the odds for their heating can simply switch to a cheaper deal. But there’s a hidden, but rapidly growing, number who estimate they’re paying up to three times more than the expected price… but don’t have the right to switch. In most cases, they are stuck with the same supplier for 25 years or more. They are among the 220,000 households signed up to District Heating networks which power entire estates by sending hot water and steam via insulated pipes from a central generator, instead of having a boiler in each home. The system, often fuelled by natural gas or biomass, is supposed to point the way to a greener future and has the enthusiastic backing of government. However, the suppliers are unregulated and customers of only five of them have the right to turn to the energy ombudsman if things go wrong. On the face of it, the schemes are good news. Unlike condensing power plants, that only use around a third of the electricity generated, district networks use 90%. Waste energy can be recycled, households no longer have to maintain their own boilers, and heating bills are supposed to be cheaper. Last year the government announced it was investing £320m in expanding the system across the UK and predicts that it will supply 8 million households by 2030. In London, where new developments are required to be zero carbon, it is being used in most large estates.
Observer 5th Feb 2017 read more »