Tackling the decarbonisation of heating

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Published: 22 July 2020


Decarbonisation of heating is the biggest challenge the UK faces in achieving its Net Zero emissions targets by 2050, according the the Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute.

Heat is the largest single source of UK carbon emissions, accounting for over one-third, and Professor Martin Freer was speaking as a new Heat Commission convened by the CBI and University of Birmingham called on the Government to develop a National Delivery Body (NDB) to lead the development and implementation of a national heat decarbonisation strategy.

Prof Freer, who is also Director of the Energy Research Accelerator, said: "Delivering decarbonisation of heating is the biggest energy challenge we face in getting to Net Zero. Unlike electricity, which can be changed at a systems level, it requires over 20 million households to adopt new energy efficiency measures and new ways of generating heat.

“There is not a single technology choice and the scale-up required in skills, manufacturing, distribution infrastructure and consumer engagement is huge. The level of coordination to deliver this needs to reach from the region to the nation, with appropriate resource being devolved to local level to be successful. The level of complexity and the urgency for change means the transition cannot be left to chance and a National Delivery Body supported by local innovation hubs such as the National Centre for the Decarbonisation of Heat is essential."

The Heat Commission’s report, Net Zero: The Road to Low-Carbon Heat, recommends the establishment of an independent, time-limited, impartial body that will work with government on creating, coordinating and delivering an overarching NDB. It will be expected to be delivered by local authorities who will link their own local and energy plan with the national programme.

Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, CBI President and Heat Commission Chair Lord Karan Bilimoria, said: “A green recovery and progress towards the UK’s net-zero emission target are doomed to fail if we don’t address the urgent need to decarbonise heat in our homes and buildings.

“Recent Government announcements will undoubtedly fast-forward our transition towards net-zero. The Commission’s recommendations offer a roadmap to accelerate progress, ensure our nation stays on a path to sustainable recovery and ensures the UK remains a global leader in meeting climate commitments.

“Aside from the moral imperative, there’s also a strong economic case for protecting our planet. Large scale heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency would provide a huge jobs boost for the economy at a time when new career opportunities are needed more than ever.”

The priorities of the NDB will include decarbonising transport, industrial emissions reduction, decentralising electricity supplies, and supporting local energy plans devised by local authorities. 

The proposed National Centre for the Decarbonisation of Heat (NCDH) could prove pivotal in the local delivery of the NDB’s work. Proposed by the University of Birmingham, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, Energy Systems Catapult and the Energy Research Accelerator, the West Midlands based NCDH will enable the rapid scaling up of manufacturing, skills and deployment of heat solutions, all necessary to meet carbon reduction targets.

The Heat Commission’s report with full recommendations is available here.