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Government Heat Strategy plans for carbon-free heating by 2050

The Government has set out its plans for reducing the carbon emissions caused by heating homes, buildings and offices, with a view to cutting emissions entirely by 2050.04 Apr 2012

Its Heat Strategy (120-page / 4.3MB PDF), published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), sets out the long-term challenges the country faces as it moves towards decarbonisation.

Almost half the energy consumed in the UK is used to generate heat for buildings and water, in cooking food and the manufacture of goods, and the majority of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels. This year the country will spend around £33 billion on heat across the economy, according to Government figures. The 2011 Carbon Plan stated that if the UK is to meet its goal of reducing emissions to 80% of 1990 figures by 2050, it must reduce emissions from buildings to near zero."

Cutting emissions from the way we generate heat is essential if we are to meet our climate change and renewables targets," said Energy Secretary Ed Davey. "Many towns, cities and communities across the UK are already switching from fossil fuels to low carbon forms of heating like biomass, heat pumps and solar thermal. I want to give the opportunity to others to follow the pioneers so that, in time, our buildings are no longer dependent on burning fossil fuels for heat but using affordable and reliable alternatives to help create a flourishing, competitive low carbon manufacturing industry."

The strategy is split into three different stages, detailing the Government's plans for the next decade and beyond. It also includes a range of different low carbon heat case studies, including that of a district heating network in Nottingham which already serves more than 4,600 homes and over 100 businesses and public sector properties. District heating networks pipe heat directly into homes instead of requiring property owners to burn gas or oil in their own boilers.

The Government's focus will be on energy efficiency, building the supply chain and supporting innovation over the next decade. It will also encourage the early uptake of low carbon alternative heating sources through the use of its existing Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) scheme for homeowners and the growth of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). As uptake will need to be "widespread in homes and businesses" in the 2020s and 2030s, it will then focus on creating the right frameworks to support the market and minimise the costs to consumers and industry of renewable technologies.

Its long term strategy will focus on "more challenging" areas of low carbon heat, assisting consumers and businesses in areas where more innovation may be needed.

Under the RHI long term financial incentives and support are available to successful applicants that use eligible and qualifying renewable technologies such as heat pumps, biomass boilers or solar thermal panels to generate heat. The Government will consult on an RHI scheme for householders in September, which it plans to launch next summer. In the meantime an extended RHPP scheme, giving households money towards the installation of renewable technologies, began this month.

Energy law expert Matthew Collinson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although the document represented a framework for developing policy rather than a policy in itself, it was a "clear signal of Government thinking" that would provide comfort to potential investors."

Renewable heat is expected to play a bigger role in what is estimated to be a £2 billion domestic heating market by 2015," he said. "As well as more renewable heat sources, DECC envisages community-scale district heating networks to deliver that heat featuring in urban regeneration programmes – which is something we are already seeing in the market."

He added that the scale of the challenge the Government had identified was good news for the supply chain."

On the demand side, the fact that two thirds of the UK's housing stock for 2050 has already been built means that the supply chain for green retrofits, and innovations in demand-management technologies such as smart metering, are likely to take centre stage," he said. Smart metering technology, which will be able to deliver real-time information about energy consumption and demand to suppliers and network operators, is due to be installed across the UK from 2014.

The DECC has also published a new National Heat Map, which will allow planners to visualise local heat use and identify potential areas to establish district heating networks.

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