Community-led heat networks can help drive low carbon heating

Pooling low-carbon subsidies to create community-led heat networks would help to drive forward adoption, according to Steve Richmond of specialist polymer manufacturer REHAU.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s ‘Second National Infrastructure Assessment’ details a 30-year plan for a low carbon and resilient economy that supports economic growth and protects the natural environment and emphasises heat pumps and heat networks as the key solution to help decarbonise the UK’s building stock. The NIC urges the government to provide an upfront subsidy of £7,000 to households who are installing heat pumps or connecting to heat networks, alongside zero per cent financing, to encourage the move away from gas boilers.

Steve Richmond, Head of Marketing & Technical – Building Solutions at REHAU UK, believes that such incentives should also encourage new community-led heat networks to be created, with the £7,000 subsidies pooled together on a community level. Doing this would particularly incentivise people in rural communities using oil or LPG to switch.

Steve said:

It is great to see that the NIC is championing heat pumps and heat networks. It has already been proven that these low carbon solutions work, and they are rapidly being adopted on the continent. The UK can follow similar approaches from Europe with community-led, not-for-profit heat networks – but only if there is enough incentive and motivation to do so. This has to come through policy changes from the government. Subsidies such as the Green Heat Network Fund are typically used on larger urban areas so we believe the government should also consider subsidies and simplify planning to help rural areas.”

He added that with up to 4.4 million households are dependent on oil, LPG and direct electric heating, installing  low carbon heat networks using heat pumps in these areas would help save energy and reduce the reliance on these fossil fuels.

He said that community leaders and local authorities could help lead the way to establishing heat networks and applying for funding. He said:

We have seen in Europe that community-led, not-for-profit projects bring great success, and this should be modelled for our country. It has worked in the UK for renewable electricity community schemes such as PV but now we need to turn our attention to heat decarbonisation.

The European Heat Pump Association’s 2023 market report found that heat pump sales grew by 39 per cent in 2022 to a total stock of 20 million heat pumps. The EHPA said these installations reduced CO2 emissions by 52.5 Mt – around the annual emissions of Greece.

Steve also endorsed the NIC’s recommendation to address the ‘spark gap’, removing the policy costs from electricity bills to ensure the cost of running a heat pump is lower than the cost of running a gas boiler. He said:

We must do whatever we can to start the accelerate the movement in electrified heat, and it’s imperative that everyone travels in the same direction. Heat pump sales are breaking records across Europe, helping them to becoming more self-sufficient and protecting their populations against volatile gas costs. We welcome the recommendations from the NIC and hope to see the changes to policy in the near future.