The decarbonisation of heat is the major energy challenge that the UK faces over the coming decades and for the West Midlands region, this presents a major opportunity. Britain has committed to achieving net-zero by 2050, but the climate crisis has a habit of imposing ever-tighter deadlines. It may turn out that we need to convert all of Britain’s housing to low-carbon heating and high-spec insulation in 20 years or fewer. In any event, it is an enormous challenge.
There are 26 million homes in the UK and the vast majority will need new heating appliances. Moreover, the building stock typically has very poor thermal efficiency, or insulation, and hence will need that insulation upgrading. The solutions for new types of heating system will be heat pumps, which use electricity to pump heat from outside the house to in; either from the air or the ground. In some places it will be possible to burn hydrogen gas rather than methane in new boilers. There will also be the opportunity for district heating schemes, which capture waste heat from industry, for example, and distribute it to homes and larger buildings.
The electrical demand of heat pumps will in many places not only exceed what the national electricity grid will supply, but the local grid as well. The scale of infrastructure required to decarbonise heat by 2050 is massive. The expectation is that it could reach £500billion. This will be part need to be stimulated through government funding schemes and part through private sector investment. The government is consulting on its heat strategy presently with the expectation of a heat policy in the autumn.
The UK government will announce its heat strategy in the autumn 2020 and are consulting on the components of that strategy presently. The University of Birmingham, Energy System Catapult and utility experts such as Cadent are working with the CBI on a Policy Commission to feed into the development of the heat policy.
The National Heat Programme
A national heat programme will be established over the coming decade to deploy a new range of ways of generating heat and to dramatically improve the thermal insulation of the UK housing stock.
This programme will require a dramatic scaling up of manufacturing of heat pumps, new boiler designs and housing retrofit solutions, the skilled workforce to develop, design and install new heat systems and a new service industry to support the new heat infrastructure. Though an extraordinary challenge, it is also a very significant opportunity for developing a new industrial sector and in particular for a region with a skills and productivity deficit and potentially industrial sectors for which there may be reduced demand post-Covid.
To support this programme the University of Birmingham, Manufacturing Technology Centre, Energy Systems Catapult and the Energy Research Accelerator are advocating the development of a National Centre for the Decarbonisation of Heat, (NCDH) to be based in the West Midlands.
The NCDH aims to create new programmes designed to allow Britain to clear the industrial and commercial roadblocks to the rapid growth of promising technologies and business models. This, in turn, would create tens of thousands of skilled jobs.
National Centre for the Decarbonisation of Heat
The NCDH will include the following elements:
The NCDH Manufacturing Accelerator would work with the heat technologies manufacturing sector to support the rapid scale-up and fast deployment of heating solutions. It would embed regional expertise including the Manufacturing Technology Centre, the Energy Systems Catapult and the eight Midlands universities that make up the Energy Research Accelerator. It would work closely with the UK’s Active Building Centre to help deliver the technologies it has developed.
The NCDH Heat Skills Academy will help coordinate and train existing and new heating engineers in heat pumps, hydrogen boilers, smart system controls, digital platforms, building integration, energy efficiency, retrofit coordination and surveying, building performance assessment and monitoring. The Energy Systems Catapult is working with several partners including BEAMA and TrustMark to build on existing skills and training capabilities to support the new academy and the Manufacturing Technology Centre has a well-developed programme, and associated facilities, of apprenticeship training across a number of sectors.
The role of the NCDH is not to support R&D but to help demonstrate prototypes get to market quickly. The NCDH Business incubator would do this by drawing on the Centre’s system integration, skills and manufacturing expertise to help SME innovators bring their products and services to market in time to help achieve our climate targets. The incubator would build on the Energy Systems Catapult Innovator Support and International Platforms and the ERDF funded SME engagement programmes across the Energy Research Accelerator Consortium. To support businesses, the NCDH will house a team of business support specialists who can advise on market potential, systems integration, finance, IP protection, business models and mentoring.
Building Integration and Living Lab
The NCDH Building Integration and Living Lab unit will provide the capability to test and demonstrate energy innovations, market arrangements, policy and regulations with real consumers – as we move towards a Net Zero carbon future. It will also help address the challenges of retrofitting new products into existing building stock. The agile and scalable approach to building the unit lends itself to responding to the dynamic nature of heat decarbonisation and future industry needs, and could potentially be part of a larger, more extensive, place specific retrofit programme. This unit will also ensure new software, control systems, AI and machine learning are factored into other NCBH capabilities such as digital manufacturing, business incubation and standards.
Standards and Verification
The NCDH would work with the standards bodies and industry to help ensure the standards are defined, met and implemented. The NCDH will also provide a range of facilities which will be used to test and validate the efficiency and performance of new technologies.
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