11 April 2018

The government recognises that de-carbonising heat, although challenging, must start to be addressed. The UK must meet its legally binding carbon reduction target of reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Heating homes and businesses is responsible for almost one third of the UK’s total emissions.

Off-gas grid properties

In the Clean Growth Strategy, the government committed to phasing out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in both domestic and non-domestic buildings off the gas grid during the 2020s, starting with new builds. This call for evidence is the first step in meeting this commitment. 

The initial focus on off-gas grid buildings is a result of the fact that traditional off-gas heating options have higher carbon emissions. There are one million oil heated households in England and Wales and around 62,000 non-domestic buildings. Oil fuel use represents about 9% of end use for space/water heating and cooking across the non-domestic sector.

The call for evidence acknowledges that there is a range of cleaner technologies that may be suitable for off-gas grid properties, but it wants to gather information about barriers to roll out. These technologies include biomass, electric heating, heat pumps and rural heat networks. It asks several key questions including the following:

  • What are the main technology choices for reducing heating emissions from off-gas grid households, businesses and public sector organisations?
  • What are the main technology choices for achieving near zero emissions from off-gas grid heating?
  • What is the role of the heating industry in delivering cost reductions through innovation? What other innovation opportunities and innovative technologies are available?
  • What can government do to ensure that future policy encourages and supports future innovations and cost reductions in technologies?

Enabling uptake of ‘clean’ heating

Although the initial focus is buildings off the gas grid, it is clear that the government is looking more widely at decarbonising heat. It is also looking at how a framework can be implemented that will follow on from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) once this closes to new applicants in 2020/2021, while reducing reliance on subsidy. 

Given the relatively low uptake of the RHI for some technologies, the government is keen to understand what can be done to overcome barriers to update beyond that of cost. The call for evidence suggests nearer term regulatory approaches that could be implemented, including:

  • an information provision obligation on fossil fuel boiler installers
  • a role for distribution network operators and/or gas distribution networks
  • obligations on suppliers of oil or manufacturers/suppliers of oil systems.

How private sector finance can be unlocked in the absence of a subsidy is also being considered

It also suggests that local approaches have the potential to be more successful. Deploying a number of systems locally (or a large system as part of a shared loop or heat network) can reduce costs and build up local supply chains. The government asks what can be done to drive action from local planning and how it can support community and local authority efforts.

What approaches are being considered?

A range of approaches are being considered, including decarbonising the gas grid using hydrogen or biogas, increased use of heat networks and the electrification of heating. Further details are expected in a report to be published by BEIS in summer 2018.

The call for evidence is open until 11 June 2018.

Burges Salmon’s award-winning energy lawyers have a wealth of experience advising on heat projects and are continuing to track policy developments. If you are interested in hearing more from us please contact Nick Churchward or Emma Andrews.

Key contact

Nick Churchward

Nick Churchward Partner

  • Head of Resource and Waste Management
  • Projects
  • Energy and Utilities

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