Pathways for Local Heat Delivery

Soaring gas prices have brought the topic of heating to the forefront of the media and public mind this year. Decarbonising heat remains the greatest energy challenge as the UK attempts to reach net zero by 2050.

Energy Policy Commission Report CoverCost is not the only imperative: heat for buildings causes 23 per cent of Britain’s total greenhouse emissions and of that, housing accounts for 17% of total emissions. 

However, unlike electricity decarbonisation it is a programme that needs to be delivered at a local rather than national level which requires consumers to change the way they heat their homes quite dramatically and think about heat as a commodity.

The Pathways for Local Heat Delivery Policy Commission report examines all the components that are required to deliver a local heat solution and the barriers that need removing. Chaired by Sir John Armitt and delivered by the University of Birmingham in partnership with Energy Research Accelerator, the Commission have used the City of Birmingham as a case study and examined: planning; finance; consumer engagement and the role for mandation and zoning; local authority expertise and capacity; and challenges presented by the local infrastructure (e.g., gas and electricity grid).

Heat decarbonisation is also the key to achieving many of the government’s biggest obstacles:

Energy Security: a faster roll-out of renewables and nuclear can reduce our exposure to high and volatile gas prices but will eliminate that exposure only if we electrify domestic heating. Heat pumps in a smart grid will also help manage the intermittency of renewables. At the end of 2021, electricity from Britain’s newest offshore wind farms cost a fixed price of £57.50/MWh while the volatile price of gas-fired electricity was over four times higher – £245/MWh. 

Air Quality: the gas boiler emits not only CO2 but also nitrogen dioxide, which causes asthma and other respiratory diseases. Boilers produce around a fifth of the NOx in London and other big cities, and on current trends the government will miss its 2030 UK NOx target. Decarbonising heat would help put that right. 

Health: gas boilers make people ill, not only through the pollution they emit, but also when people can’t afford to turn them on. Living in cold homes kills 27,000 people each year and costs the NHS £1.4-£2 billion annually in England alone.

Jobs and Skills: we need to train over 50,000 heat pump engineers by 2030, and 500,000 professionals and tradespeople to install insulation and other retrofit measures, manage projects and provide consumer advice, and yet more in manufacturing. 

Fuel poverty and Levelling Up: fuel poverty is caused by a combination of low incomes and poorly insulated homes, now exacerbated by sky-high gas prices. Decarbonising heat and raising efficiency will help with both. A once in a generation renewal of Britain’s housing stock will create warm, thermally efficient homes, and provide hundreds of thousands of good jobs (see above). It is hard to imagine another programme that could simultaneously deliver so much of the government’s Levelling Up agenda.

Download the Pathways for Local Heat Delivery report

A Birmingham Policy Commission Chaired by Sir John Armitt

Download the report PDF [6.3MB]

Find out more

  • Key recommendations

    A person is changing the temperature setting on their radiator.

    British policy on heat decarbonisation needs a reset. The keys to this are simplicity, place and – in the short to medium term - funding.

  • Commissioners

    The commissioners sitting around a table.

    Leading figures from the public, private and third sectors have come together with Birmingham academics to examine all the components required to deliver a local heat solution.