Although energy generation has seen sharp falls in emissions in recent years, heat-related emissions have remained stubbornly stable, and the roll out of technologies such as heat pumps and biomass boilers has been hampered by high costs and technical challenges.
According to government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change, meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets of 80% by 2050 may prove impossible without tackling this issue, and the government's own Clean Growth Strategy cites heating sector emissions as one of the toughest decarbonisation challenges.
In a report published today, Energy UK, which represents more than 100 energy suppliers, is calling for the government to support a range of tests for new technologies to help shift away from fossil-fuel heating, as well as policies on zero-carbon homes, and a review of the Renewable Heat Incentive.
However, Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, said the problem was “in danger of being left behind both in terms of resources and focus”.
He said: "Industry is already taking leadership in helping to deliver this change, as is highlighted throughout the report, but government has a vital role to play in kick-starting this transformation, which is why we're setting out areas where it should get the ball rolling.
"If, as the government's Clean Growth Strategy sets out, the 2020s will see real change taking place in heating, then we need to prepare the ground now."
According to Kevin Stickney, managing director of geo-exchange provider Erda Energy, the time to act is now. “There are big challenges in decarbonising heat, but we can't let them paralyse us,” he said. “We need to start making decisions on the big questions now – such as hydrogen versus electrification – or we'll find it's too late."
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy responded to the report by saying it was “exploring a range of low-carbon heating technologies”. "As outlined in the Clean Growth Strategy, we plan to publish a full report on our review of the evidence by summer 2018," the department said in a statement.