In this response authors voice concerns that the measures outlined are not ambitious enough to drive the UK’s transformation to sustainable heating at a rate commensurate with the goal of net-zero by 2050.

Decarbonising heating and cooling

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has provided research and analysis across the whole energy system since 2004, with funding provided by the Research Councils through a succession of five-year phases. Research related to low carbon heat became a significant focus during Phase 3 (2014 – 2019) and the current Phase 4 includes a research theme devoted to decarbonisation of heating and cooling, with several of our other themes providing relevant insights.

Below we include a number of high-level observations that we provide in our introductory remarks.

Immediate progress is required

Overall, we are concerned that the measures outlined in the consultation need to be set within a coherent and ambitious package of policies that work together to drive the UK’s transformation to sustainable heating at a rate commensurate with the goal of net-zero by 2050. While we appreciate there are some uncertainties over the future role of the gas grid and the potential for hydrogen for heating, immediate progress in heat system decarbonisation is clearly required as part of this multi-decadal transformation.

As the consultation notes, heat pumps offer a low regrets option in some applications and it is widely acknowledged that the UK has a small supplier base and very low level of heat pump deployment compared to many countries. Increasing consumer and installer familiarity, and growing the skills base and supply chain all feature strongly in the process of ‘learning by doing’ that reduces heat pump costs. If heat pump deployment were to proceed linearly to 2050 in line with some scenarios for deployment, annual installations would need to increase by an order of magnitude. Whilst welcome, the current proposals are not sufficient to deliver a large scale market for heat pumps. Ambition and clarity of purpose are essential if heat system decarbonisation is to succeed.

Supporting the development of large low-carbon heating systems

We also stress the importance of providing support to the development of large low carbon heating systems, including systems attached to heat networks. We appreciate that the provisions laid out in the consultation pertain only to specific schemes and note the observations made in the consultation about support for heat networks.

Alongside the required policy changes necessary to support specific heating technologies, wider governance changes will be needed to drive the UK transformation to low carbon heating. Whilst regulation and other forms of financial support for building efficiency improvement are noted in the consultation, we note that it is likely to be important to use ‘sticks’ as well as ‘carrots’ if the highest carbon heating systems are to be removed and building efficiency increased. However, it will also be important to consider ownership and regulation of heat networks, the role of local authorities and opportunities for innovation that may be unlocked through regulatory change – such as encouraging electricity suppliers to offer ‘smart’ heating tariffs or enabling community ownership of heat distribution schemes. While we appreciate these issues are beyond the scope of the current consultation, it is important that these considerations inform policy choices made now.

Read our detailed responses in the full consultations response.

Authors include Fabian Fuentes Gonzalez (University of Edinburgh)