The production of heat is responsible for about half the UK’s total CO2 emissions, so, if Cumbria is going to play its full part in reducing carbon emissions it is important to look at ways to generate renewable heat as well as renewable electricity.
The National Policy Statement on Energy expects doubling or tripling of total installed electricity generating capacity by 2050, because of an increased demand for electricity in the transport and domestic heating sectors.(1) However, the Government does say that its ambition is to have 12% of heating coming from renewable sources by 2020.(2)
Diversifying heat technologies
Government policy seems to be moving towards an all-electric future. In the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1)(3) it argues that, despite major improvements in overall energy efficiency, demand for electricity is likely to increase as significant sectors of energy demand (such as industry, heating and transport) switch from being powered by fossil fuels to using electricity. As a result of this electrification total electricity consumption (measured in terawatt hours over a year) could double by 2050, and if there is a high level of dependence on intermittent electricity generation, then the capacity (measured in Gigawatts) of electricity generation could need to triple.
But a study for the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Association undertaken by Imperial College and Surrey University says that while the virtually all-electric future, as proposed by the Government, could be low carbon, it isn’t necessarily the best way of doing things. Heat is a very important end-use of energy in the current energy system and is expected to remain so in 2050. In 2007, heat represented 41% of total final energy consumption in the UK. Over half of this heat demand comes from the domestic sector, highlighting the significant challenge associated with decarbonising heat on an individual household basis. No route to low carbon heat is without challenges, but the all-electric future would not necessarily be optimally efficient, since thermal losses from power generation are large.(4)
Renewable Heat Incentive
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)(5) is a UK Government scheme set up to encourage uptake of renewable heat technologies among householders, communities and businesses through the provision of financial incentives. The RHI for non-domestic generators was launched in November 2011, and the domestic RHI launched in April 2014. RHI will make a significant contribution towards the 2020 ambition.
The domestic RHI supports:
- biomass boilers heating the whole house
- pellet stoves with back boilers heating the whole house
- ground source heat pumps
- air to water heat pumps
- solar water heating(6)
Cumbrian local authorities should work to ensure maximum take-up of the Renewable Heat Incentive in Cumbria by making sure that people are well informed about their availability.
Off the Gas Grid
There is particular scope for renewable heat in areas off the gas grid.(7) Impact Housing Association was reported in 2009 to be developing biomass district heating schemes aiming to tackle fuel poverty in off-gas grid communities. It was also reported to be working on establishing a Cumbria-wide ESCo scheme, Impact Affordable Energy, to promote this model more widely. There is no recent information on the project available.
Where wood fuel heating or biomass district heating isn’t appropriate, air source and ground source heat pumps can make much more efficient use of electricity for heating. Ground source heat pumps use pipes which are buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground. This heat can then be used to heat radiators, underfloor or warm air heating systems and hot water in your home.(8) If it is not possible to bury pipes in the garden or too expensive and air source heat pump might be more suitable. These look like an extractor fan and can absorb heat from the outside air. This heat can then be used to heat radiators, underfloor heating systems, or warm air convectors and hot water in the home.(9)
Gas Absorption Heat Pumps
Various heating industry stakeholders have joined forces to support the inclusion of gas absorption heat pumps (GAHPs) in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). By combining two established technologies, a high efficiency modern condensing gas boiler and an air source heat pump, GAHPs provide an efficient and low carbon way to utilise gas (and propane gas in areas off the gas grid) to heat buildings.(10)
- Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1), DECC July 2011, Para 3.3.14.
- Renewable Heat Incentive, Energy Saving Trust website accessed 19th May 2014
- Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1), DECC, July 2011
- Building a roadmap for heat: 2050 scenarios and heat delivery in the UK, Jamie Spiers et al. University of Surrey and Imperial College, London. CHPA February 2010.
- Renewable Heat Incentive, DECC 13th May 2014
- An Introduction to the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme, Ofgem, April 2014.
- See Annex 12 for a map of areas more than 7km from the gas grid in: A Sustainable Energy Agency for Cumbria: Annexes: Supporting Information Energy4All Ltd, Rebecca Willis, John Knox, Elizabeth Bruce, April 2009.
- Ground Source Heat Pumps, Energy Saving Trust (accessed 19th May 2014)
- Air Source Heat Pumps, Energy Saving Trust (accessed 19th May 2013)
- Ecuity Press Release 16th May 2014