Working towards zero-carbon heating emissions

19th September 2019


Related Topics

Related tags

  • sea ice loss ,
  • UK - Devolved Governments, Overseas Territories ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management

Author

Tony Dean

The Committee on Climate Change's recent report on reaching net zero carbon emissions included some interesting proposals for decarbonising the UK's heating systems, as Paul Reeve explains

At the beginning of May, the UK government's independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) issued a recommendation that the country should move rapidly towards a 'zero net carbon' economy. While the UK is already committed to a hugely challenging 80% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050, the CCC's latest report, Net Zero: The UK's contribution to stopping global warming, points the way to zero UK carbon emissions over the same timescale and prompts the government to take early action.

While the new report spans the entire UK economy, a specific chapter on buildings focuses on the fundamental challenge of achieving 'low to no carbon' building heating. The CCC refers to the essential and growing role of electricity from renewables, and the need to deploy smart tech to control the country's energy demand, supply and storage. The stand-out recommendation is for the massive roll-out of hybrid (dual fuel) heat pumps and hydrogen boilers across the UK, either supplementing or replacing natural gas boilers. This would boost low-carbon heating in UK buildings from 4.5% now to a game-changing 90% by 2050 – but at an eye-watering abatement cost of around £140 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). This would involve tens of billions of pounds of capital expenditure per year.

Although the CCC adds that installing these technologies would become more affordable if they were deployed at scale, it freely acknowledges this won't be easy. First, it would require positive, urgent and joined-up government energy policy, to include “a fully-fledged strategy for decarbonised heat“ by next year, along with a 'Future Homes' standard aimed at ensuring UK new builds have low-carbon heating and excellent energy efficiency by 2025.

With energy efficiency offering the most cost-effective route to energy savings, the CCC also wants the “energy efficiency retrofit of 29m homes to be a national infrastructure priority.“ However, any such programme would need to achieve far more than the 'Green Deal' retrofit scheme, which failed some five years ago.

Second, the UK is well short of the capacity and infrastructure needed to deploy heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, as envisaged in the report. Replacing natural gas boilers would mean boosting the UK's current 20,000 annual heat pump installations by a factor of 50, while also delivering a hydrogen boiler infrastructure within 15 years from a standing start.

While the CCC does not set government policy, its hugely ambitious report shows what's technically possible, based on strong data and authoritative analysis. It also identifies many of the barriers that would need to be overcome. Yet, despite plenty of ideas for how to achieve a zero-carbon built environment, the report doesn't include possible contributions from excellent whole-life building performance or even a circular building economy.

However, the CCC has now issued a net zero-carbon challenge for the UK built environment, and much more besides. It's now for government, clients and the construction and building maintenance sectors to consider how to respond.

The CCC's 275-page report 'Net Zero: The UK contribution to stopping global warming' is here.

Paul Reeve FIEMA CEnv is director of CSR at engineering services body ECA.

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

UK off track for net zero by 2030, CCC warns

Only a third of the emission reductions required for the UK to achieve net zero by 2030 are covered by credible plans, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned today.

18th July 2024

Read more

Almost three-fifths of UK environmental professionals feel there is a green skills gap across the country’s workforce, or that there will be, a new survey has uncovered.

4th July 2024

Read more

Climate hazards such as flooding, droughts and extreme heat are threatening eight in 10 of the world’s cities, new research from CDP has uncovered.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Nine in 10 UK adults do not fully trust brands to accurately portray their climate commitments or follow the science all the time, a new survey has uncovered.

19th June 2024

Read more

Just one in 20 workers aged 27 and under have the skills needed to help drive the net-zero transition, compared with one in eight of the workforce as a whole, new LinkedIn data suggests.

18th June 2024

Read more

With a Taskforce on Inequality and Social-related Financial Disclosures in the pipeline, Beth Knight talks to Chris Seekings about increased recognition of social sustainability

6th June 2024

Read more

Disinformation about the impossibility of averting the climate crisis is part of an alarming turn in denialist tactics, writes David Burrows

6th June 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close