Tata Steel BOS plant, Port Talbot

Heat policy proves too hot to handle

Setting a strategy to manage our hunger for heat has proved to be a political hot potato.

What costs the UK a staggering £32bn each year and is responsible for over a third of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? With statistics like that you would expect the answer to roll off the tongue. In fact it is the use of energy to produce heat.Given the government’s oft-stated aim of reducing GHG emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, coupled with the long-running financial crisis, developing a coherent UK heat policy would seem to be a no-brainer.

The government has set about reforming the electricity markets through the Energy Bill. The Green Deal programme aims to drive energy efficiency. Smart meters are coming, enabling consumers to make better-informed decisions about their energy use.

But one thing has been missing from the intricate jigsaw of energy policy - the supply of low-carbon heat. That gap was supposed to be filled with the publication of a Department of Energy and Climate Change report in March, but in reality ‘The Future of Heating: Meeting the Challenge’ can be seen as presenting more questions than answers.

“If we can increase the use of low-carbon heating across our economy, we can help reduce our dependence on costly carbon intense fossil fuels,” Energy Secretary Edward Davey explained. “Last year we launched the UK’s first ever heat strategy, to get us on the right path to decarbonisation and today we have published an update, alongside a new set of actions specifically targeted at industrial heat.”

The report focuses on four areas: industry, heat networks, buildings and infrastructure.

Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University is a member of the IET energy policy panel, and was lead author of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2012 policy on heat. “To crack this we have got to think about all the sources of heat,” he said. “In terms of heat the IET has no clear policy yet, but we have a joint energy/built environment sector working party looking at it. This is a big step forward from the position a year ago.

“There doesn’t seem to be one single professional institution that looks after this issue, though the IET does some bits and CIBSE does others,” Kemp added.


Heat is an integral part of many industrial processes including melting, drying, pasteurising and distilling. Required temperatures range from below 100°C to above 1,000°C. Industry uses 20 per cent of UK heat energy and generates 32 per cent of heat-related carbon emissions.

Six industrial sectors form this heat-intensive core - chemicals, mineral products, basic metals, pulp and paper, food and beverage and refining. These sectors employ 2 per cent of the UK workforce and contribute £50bn to the economy.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is seen as one way to cut industrial carbon emissions from heat. The most energy-efficient way to use any fuel is to convert it into power and heat simultaneously. Where both are required on site this can deliver carbon savings of up to 30 per cent, the report says.

A good example of CHP is Tata Steel’s Port Talbot works. The facility produces 4.7 million tonnes of steel a year. Tata recently replaced the basic oxygen steelmaking gas cooling system with evaporative cooling.

The new system allows waste heat to be recovered and used to generate 40 tonnes of steam each hour. As a result, on-site electricity generation will increase to 10MWe, making the £2.5m investment in waste heat recovery economically viable.

The DECC report suggests that carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be another key technology, allowing energy intensive industries to continue using fossil fuels while significantly reducing emissions.

Dr Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, welcomed this recognition, saying it would guarantee employment and prosperity. “Industrial CCS is an extremely exciting prospect for the UK to save CO2 emissions at low cost while retaining a thriving energy intensive industrial base,” he said.

The government’s energy and industry departments, DECC and BIS, will develop decarbonisation roadmaps for each sector and look at ways to support CCS, waste heat recovery and CHP in industry.

Heat networks

There are 27 million UK dwellings spread across a vast range of housing stock, some of which date back to Victorian times. There are also 1.8 million non-domestic buildings.

To decarbonise space heating in buildings, a lot is expected from heat networks, which supply heat from a central facility to a number of buildings, usually through underground pipes. Most systems move this heat as hot water, but steam is used for some applications requiring higher temperatures.

Kemp says heat for buildings is a huge issue that must be tackled, but warns that people are not used to paying very much for heat. “Gas has low tax compared to petrol or diesel. In terms of infrastructure you only pay out £5,000 for a boiler every 10-20 years.”

Heat networks are best suited to urban areas with high demand density. At present 2 per cent of UK heat is delivered through 2,000 networks. The policy confirms a major expansion of district heating infrastructure and acceleration of community schemes.

“The policy will reinforce the position of district heating at the centre of our future heating industry,” said Julian Packer, chairman of the Combined Heat and Power Association. “It also presents a stimulus for energy infrastructure investment in the centre of our communities, creating jobs in engineering and construction.

“We can expect this approach, along with schemes such as the Energy Company Obligation, to stimulate investment of more than £300m in community energy infrastructure over the next few years.”

DECC has announced a £9m package to get local authority heat network schemes up and running. Kemp said: “If we are going to build heat networks it is going to cost. If you look at the costs in the strategy they are talking about, the odd million or two is peanuts.”

Kemp argues that heat strategy is hugely complicated. “The report has at least put this issue on the government radar,” he conceded. “But they have not grasped the nettle and said how they are going to tackle the issues they have identified and what impact that will have on energy users.”

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