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Report urges UK to look to Europe for viable heat network strategies

The UK should look to European markets on how best to build a viable business case for network-based heating to support the decarbonisation of buildings

The UK must look to its European neighbours for examples of heat network strategies that can help overcome existing barriers to expanding uptake of such systems, a new study has concluded. Greater choice and flexibility in how heat networks are implemented and managed is expected to be an important step in decarbonising buildings across the UK in order to drastically cut carbon emissions.

Research group Cornwall Insight said its report, The future of UK heat networks ­– critical comparisons with European markets, looks at an array of challenges in ensuring the viability of heat network services for businesses and UK authorities to help transform their heat provision.

The research provides analysis of similar schemes and policy currently being implemented in markets such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden and considers how this can support a more aggregated and flexible market in the UK for heat networks.

Comparisons are made in the research with existing UK structures to determine where advances can be made to realise the government’s aims of creating a self-sustaining market for heat network solutions. Cornwall Insight said the government has committed to create a framework that can support new types of business models and district heat technologies with sufficient regulation and consumer protections.

Whitehall is therefore considering plans for targeted investment that can ensure lower heating costs and support its aims to eliminate or fully offset carbon emissions nationally by 2050.

Cornwall Insight analyst Stuart Leaver said that the UK’s heat network ambitions faced a number of challenges to overcome if they are to be realised in line with national net zero carbon plans. 

He added, “However, despite clear policy and decarbonisation pathways outlined by the government, there is much that can be learnt from our European neighbours who are at more advanced stage than the UK.”

Mr Leaver added that industry needed to see different businesses cases for how heat networks might be developed or expanded to meet unique regional needs such as in the case of local authorities and their estates. This might include introducing a new UK investment strategy to create a ‘liberal heat market’ that can create a business model that is more viable for suppliers and customers.

 Mr Leaver said, “However, there are several barriers that need to be overcome, including issues surrounding connection, consumption and protection for both consumers and generators that will all need to be addressed to ensure success.

“Most importantly, the UK will need to mitigate the risk to investment for heat networks. This will require thoughts around multiple supplier models for heat, and the opportunity to promote competition and therefore innovation. With more of an interconnected network the UK should be able to reap the benefits and lower carbon emissions.”

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