OPINION: Is this a way to decarbonise heating?

In the February 2020 issue of New Power Report, Jessica Ralston, policy advisor at the Sustainable Energy Association, asked for feedback on SEA’s new proposals to decarbonise domestic heating

“It is imperative that carbon emissions must be dramatically reduced. And it is clear that a big part in this must be played by those building and managing the nation’s homes.” This quote comes from Lord Best, the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) president, and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. With the government committing to the phase-out of high carbon fossil fuels in the 2020s and the setting of a net zero target in 2050, this next decade will require substantial changes in the way we build, manage and heat our homes.

Heat decarbonisation is one of the toughest challenges facing the UK as we strive to meet the recently set net-zero target and yet relatively little progress has been made in this area to date. The Committee on Climate Change, in its recent report to Parliament, identified the development of a low-carbon heat strategy this year as a key priority to prepare for a net-zero target.

The SEA is currently seeking views from property managers, industry and public sector organisations on proposals to regulate the carbon intensity of heat in buildings before presenting them to government.

A new policy paper ‘Achieving Net Zero: Regulating the Decarbonisation of Heat’ aims to contribute to the development of a heat decarbonisation strategy, by guaranteeing that emissions from heat fall at a rate aligned with the net zero target and reduce carbon emissions substantially enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis. It is designed with the off-grid commitment to phase out fossil fuels in mind, with the option of extending it to ensure the delivery of low-carbon heat to homes on the gas grid beyond 2030.


Regulating carbon intensity

A carbon intensity regulation would set a limit to the permitted emissions per kWh of heating provided. This takes into account both the carbon intensity of the fuel and the efficiency of the heating technology. The carbon intensity standard is calculated by identifying the carbon intensity of fuel – a value of kgCO2e/kWh – and the efficiency of the heating system is determined by considering both space and domestic hot water heating requirements.

The standard would apply on a rolling basis to heating systems at the point of replacement and as such, would not be retrospectively applied to in-situ heating systems. This paper provides an indication of how a regulatory framework could be introduced and the impact it could have on the phase out of different heating technologies including oil, biomass, heat pumps, electric heating and natural gas.

The SEA is seeking views on this approach and will further develop the proposals based on feedback.

The level of the regulated standard has been calculated to ensure the government’s commitment to phasing out fossil fuel in the off grid in the 2020s is achieved. It is set at a level that allows for a steady decrease in the carbon intensity year on year, whilst still allowing time for a decision on how the gas grid will be decarbonised. This decision on the future of the gas grid will need to be taken before 2030 and ideally in the mid-2020s, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.

The regulation can change the way we think about heat impacting supply chains, installers and households. Whilst change can be disruptive, regulation in the form outlined will provide confidence to the market by providing a clear trajectory, ultimately with the aim of reducing carbon from the heating and hot water provision of homes, which forms 20% of the UK’s total emissions.

It will provide clear direction, encourage developments in biofuels, and increase uptake of readily available low carbon heating systems. The SEA propose that a carbon intensity regulation should be implemented as part of a holistic suite of policies that will help to improve the UK housing stock’s energy efficiency and encourage uptake of low-carbon heating.

The SEA would welcome feedback on the regulatory approach and encourage readers to respond to the questions within the paper. Please email [email protected] with your comments by 12 February 2020.

Download the full paper here

1 comment for “OPINION: Is this a way to decarbonise heating?

  1. David Dundas
    February 7, 2020 at 9:44 AM

    The SEA proposal is basically good, however putting biofuels forward rather than other technologies is misleading because biofuels do not really solve the problem as a biofuel system just takes out CO2 from the air but returns it when the fuel is burnt, without considering the carbon cost of growing harvesting and distribution to the heaters. In the long term most energy must be delivered by zero carbon electricity either directly or in a transportable form such as batteries or hydrogen. In buildings heat pumps will play a key role in heating with better building design to minimise heat loss and solar absorption. The emphasis of SEA needs to be adjusted.

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