Heating is responsible for generating around a fifth of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and this makes it a major target for decarbonisation.

Meeting the UK’s net zero targets will require the decarbonisation of virtually all heat in buildings and cleaning up our heat output is a key part of this. This, however, begs an important question – what can be done to reduce the release of harmful gases caused by heating?

In June 2019, the government set a legally binding target to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Two years later, in 2021, Whitehall proposed reducing GHG emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

Heat network zoning

The Energy Act 2023 – which has been described by the government as ‘the biggest piece of energy legislation in the UK’s history’ – was introduced in October 2023. It established the regulatory framework for heat networks in Great Britain and provides powers to introduce heat network zoning in England through secondary legislation.

Heat networks are an essential part of decarbonising heat, enhancing energy security and achieving the UK’s net zero goals. These networks currently deliver just 3% of the UK’s total heat, but government analysis shows this could rise to 20% of total by 2050.

But establishing effective heat networks will involve identifying and designating zones where they provide the lowest cost low carbon heating option.

Heat network consultation

That is why the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has launched a consultation on heat network zoning which is seeking feedback on proposals to identify and create heat network zones in England. The consultation is open until February 26, 2024.

The government says: “Heat network zoning will be essential to speeding up the development of new heat networks. By indicating where heat networks are likely to be the lowest cost solution to decarbonising heat, we hope to catalyse growth where it’s most needed.”

So, the proposals aim to determine and designate areas of England where heat networks are expected to be the lowest-cost solution to decarbonising heat.

According to the government: “Heat network zoning will be essential to speeding up the development of new heat networks. By indicating where heat networks are likely to be the lowest cost solution to decarbonising heat, we hope to catalyse growth where it’s most needed.”

Heat network zoning is expected to increase private sector investment by removing the barriers that currently limit the pace of developing large scale heat networks. It is also designed to give local communities the tools to accelerate the development of heat networks in their own areas and ensure that more homes and businesses have access to greener, cheaper heat.

Heat Network Zoning Authority

A central plank of the consultation is the suggestion that a centralised ‘Heat Network Zoning Authority’ be created to oversee the establishment of so-called ‘zone co-ordinators’ that would work with central and local government to implement zoning plans.

It is proposed that, when the national modelling process has identified a potential heat network zone in a town or city, the relevant zone co-ordinator will refine the zone boundaries and consider local factors.

Further details of the consultation and the questions it asks are available on the consultation platform.

The Association for Renewable Energy & Clean Technology (REA) will be holding a discussion for its members to provide further information and to help develop the REA consultation response. This will be useful for heat source technologies which can be divided into:

  • High temperature recoverable heat sources such as combined heat and power (CHP), Energy from Waste (EfW), combined heat and cooling as well as high temperature heat resulting from industrial processes.
    • Low temperature ‘near constant’ recoverable heat sources – for example, wastewater treatment, data centres, electricity transformers, gas compressors, mines, cold stores, underground railways.
    • Low temperature ‘intermittent’ recoverable sources – for example, sugar mills, breweries, foundries, supermarkets.
    • Ambient location specific sources – for example, solar, river, sea, canals.
    • Ambient location agnostic sources such as air-to-water heat pumps.

To contribute to the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers’ response, meanwhile, submit responses to technical@cibse.org

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