Lancaster University

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Radical changes in home heating needed to meet carbon targets

01/12/2012 00:00:00

​There is no possibility that the UK can meet its 2050 target for CO2 emissions without a fundamental change to the way our homes are heated, according to a report written for the Royal Academy of Engineering by a Lancaster University Professor.

Even with the most modern gas boilers and state-of-the art insulation, we cannot continue to heat so many homes by natural gas and still achieve an 80 per cent cut in emissions as laid down in the Climate Change Act 2008.

The Academy’s report, Heat: degrees of comfort, was written by Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University’s Engineering Department.

It looks at the challenges of matching our demand for domestic heating, lighting and cooking with the binding commitment to reduce our overall carbon emissions. It calls for a review of the regulations, taxes and subsidies governing the introduction of diverse new technologies like district heating, combined heat and power (CHP) and heat pumps. It argues these must be flexible and directed at the end objective of reducing carbon emissions, but should otherwise be technology-neutral. At present, the complexity of the regulations and financial incentives is in danger of being counterproductive.

To switch a large part of the domestic heating load to electric heating would greatly increase the demand on the grid and increase the challenge of meeting peaks in demand. To attempt to meet the whole of such a load by ‘flow renewables’ - sources of renewable energy which are available only when the wind blows or when the sun shines -  would require a level of installed capacity that would be almost impossible to build. It would also be standing idle for most of the summer months, thus making energy very expensive. Storage, whether of natural gas, biomass, large scale thermal storage, or an intermediate vector such as hydrogen, electricity or heat, will be essential.

Most of the houses that will exist in 2050 have already been built. New houses should be built to the highest standard of energy efficiency but that, by itself, will not be enough. If we are to meet the 2050 targets, says the report, major improvements will have to be made to the existing housing stock. This will be disruptive to householders and expensive.  Other than basic insulation and draft-proofing, households are likely to need a financial incentive (such as substantially increased carbon taxes and/or subsidies of energy saving technology) to persuade them to act.

Professor Kemp, who chairs the Academy’s Heat working group said: “Managing the UK’s energy systems in a way that reduces CO2, avoids unaffordable imports, ensures energy security, does not exacerbate fuel poverty, supports job creation and works with, rather than against, the competitive market will be hugely difficult.

“Government is only just coming to terms with the complexity of these multiple demands on policy but if they are really serious about meeting these targets they will have to adopt  a far more revolutionary and proactive approach than we have seen to date.”

For details of the report click here.