Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The new face of district heating

After months of drafting, an extensive public consultation and many rounds of input from several major organisations, the Heat Networks: Code of Practice for the UK was finally unveiled. But it wasn’t just an important night for the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) and CIBSE, for whom this was a ‘first of its kind’ document. It marks an important milestone for the future of heating in the UK.

And that’s not an idle boast; the Government already holds heat networks to be an important asset in the fight against energy insecurity, having issued a target of 14% of the UK’s heat to be supplied this way. As a result, we have had a tremendous level of support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change who provided funding for the completion of the Code and development of the training programme.

CIBSE's Phil Jones, ADE's Time Rotheray and DECC's David Wagstaff launch the Code
The reason for this stretches all the way back to the oil crises of the 1970s, after which many European countries woke up to the fact that they would have to start taking their energy security seriously. In the face of heating oil rations, blackouts and driving bans, countries such as Sweden and Denmark opted to manage their citizens’ heating more efficiently from heat networks, while Britain opted to invest in its domestic gas network.

In 2015 we are starting to see similar pressures to those in 1973, but the threat is different. Climate Change is forcing the UK Government to re-think the ways in which it supplies energy to its citizens, as dwindling gas supplies and the increasing unsustainability of fossil fuels makes an alternative more and more necessary. 40 years later, heat networks in Europe are a much more mature concern; Malmo in Sweden and Denmark’s capital Copenhagen supply close to 100% of their heating, while the UK languishes far behind with less than 2% supplied that way.

Battersea Power Station used to supply Pimlico with waste heat


Unfortunately, for all the international pedigree that heat networks have, the picture is not the same in Britain. Without a heat networks culture already in place, planners and developers are taking some convincing of the benefits: Neglected as an option over the decades, heat networks often have a history of poor installation and maintenance, as well as a bad reputation for being installed in inappropriate settings. This Code, with the accompanying training, puts the skills and standards in place which will convince developers that new networks will be properly installed.

This has the potential to change the face of heating in the UK, as it will finally make district heating a recognised alternative for heating in high density areas, and could make it the solution of choice up and down the country. And this isn't just a boost for the Government; over half of the average home’s energy costs are taken up by heating bills, which will be lowered considerably by the ability to tap into cheaper, shared heat sources. 

Fundamentally, the Code will give developers the confidence they need to choose heat networks as their preferred solution, safe in the knowledge that a rigorous set of standards and a robust form of measurement is in place to ensure their effectiveness. This will prove crucial in the years ahead, if the Government is to achieve their 14% target. 

Pumping equipment at Pimlico District Heating Undertaking

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