The UK could save 10m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year if the waste heat from some of the country's biggest power stations was diverted to warm homes and offices, according to a study by engineers.

They say attaching heat capture technology to stations such as Kingsnorth and Drax would meet 5% of the UK's heat requirements. And in future, any new big power stations should be built to capture and distribute heat as well as electricity. In addition, new housing developments should be designed and built with small local combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

Heat accounts for around 49% of all primary energy needs in the UK. This is mainly fuelled by gas � in 2006, the heat sector used 735 TWh compared with 653TWh and 393TWh used by transport and electricity sector respectively. Currently, coal and nuclear power stations are around 35% efficient which means that, for every 1,000MW of electricity the stations produce, around 2,000MW of heat is dumped into the atmosphere via the cooling towers. Theoretically, if half of that energy could be captured for domestic or commercial heating, it could meet 25% of the UK's current heat demand, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Southampton and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The study acknowledged that attaching CHP equipment to all of the UK's power plants and then building the piping infrastructure needed to distribute it would not be practical for all the current power stations. One practical problem is that many nuclear and coal stations are built in remote locations, far away from places that could usefully need their heat.

But the report did identify some power stations that are near to population centres: the region around Drax, Ferrybridge and Eggsborough near Leeds and the Kingsnorth and Tillbury power stations near London. The installation of heat recovery schemes in these power stations could meet 5% of the UK's demand for heat and cut CO2 emissions by 10m tonnes.