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Heat Energy: The Nation’s Forgotten Crisis

In this report we investigate the measures engineers will need to take to ensure that our future energy security challenges, social needs and decarbonisation aspirations are met

North Sea gas reserves are depleting rapidly, and the nation’s gas imports are rising through our undersea pipeline connections and liquid natural gas (LNG) receiving terminals to maintain supply. The time to focus attention on how best to transition to new energy sources for heat is long overdue.

For the past decade, successive UK Governments have focused energy policy initiatives almost exclusively on creating an environment to drive renewal of the nation’s electricity infrastructure. The challenge has been substantial, not least because of the difficult task of balancing the competing demands of the ‘energy trilemma’ (cost, security of supply and sustainability), while simultaneously trying to attract large-scale financial investment in the sector from domestic consumers, the private sector and overseas.

A similar challenge now awaits the UK’s new government, but this time an order of magnitude more complex: renewal of the nation’s heat infrastructure.

Key recommendations

  1. Declare all UK building stock ‘national infrastructure’ and instigate a legislatively driven insulation programme
    Such an action would need to go far beyond the government’s recently announced legislative measures to force landlords of private rented accommodation to improve the energy performance of their properties. For those who can afford to pay (eg owner-occupiers and commercial companies), key intervention opportunities such as, for example, the sale of a building, should be taken to impose mandatory upgrade points, linked to an incentive such as a reduction in stamp duty.

    For those who cannot afford to pay, a national scheme to cover the cost of the work should be instigated and paid for out of general taxation. These private and public sector approaches would not only reduce UK heat demand, but also create employment opportunities and allied skills development for installers, as well as tax revenues that would help offset the programme costs.
  2. Recognise the key role of the installer community and instigate a mandatory national installer ‘sustainable heat’ certification scheme
    Competent, trusted installers, through their unique position as valued advisers to their customers, are the key to a successful sustainable outcome for renewal of the UK’s heat infrastructure. It is essential that government recognises this and ensures that they have the knowledge, expertise and skills to take a holistic view of a building’s heat systems, for both energy demand reduction and sustainable supply, and to recommend installation of equipment that fits harmoniously with that view. In order to achieve such an aim, the government should instigate a compulsory free national training scheme alongside a mandatory competence registration, similar to the CORGI certification and registration (now ‘Gas Safe Register’) established as a legal requirement for gas installers in 1991.
  3. Tackle the provision of larger pieces of national heat infrastructure, as well as the interconnection and integration of heat systems with other energy networks
    The UK’s heat infrastructure, from individual buildings to larger-scale District Heating networks, should be declared ‘national infrastructure’ and dealt with in a holistic and strategic way. The global exemplar of a truly integrated energy system is in Denmark, where the power generation network, the heat energy network and multiple forms of waste stream are fully integrated to deliver a Sustainable Energy Network (SEN). The aspiration of the UK government should be to learn from this existing system and adopt the approach within a UK context.

Related links

Read the press release:
New report calls for mandatory insulation for every UK home

Read the Institution News article:
Heat energy: Institution releases report on the UK’s forgotten crisis


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