By signing the Paris Agreement – which unites all countries in the fight against climate change – the UK pledged to contribute to international action and hit certain targets in its own Climate Change Act by the year 2050.
However, a new report from the Committee on Climate Change suggests that progress in this regard has now stalled and the government must now take action to reduce emissions and ready the country for further carbon-reducing initiatives in the next ten years.
The Committee’s recommendations include setting out the role of hydrogen for buildings on the gas grid during the next Parliament (and whether it can be supplied through existing gas networks), as well as ensuring the Emissions Reduction Plan incorporates immediate action and is ready for future decisions in the next Parliament.
Low carbon heat
Steps to be taken in the next decade must include improving energy efficiency across the existing building stock and deploying low carbon heat, which the Committee has stressed cannot wait until the 2030s. There are already opportunities for heat pumps to be fitted in properties that aren’t on the gas grid, installing low carbon heat networks in urban areas and increasing volumes of biomethane injection into the gas grid.
As for immediate action, the report recommended making sure new builds will not need to be retrofitted within 15 years and ensuring they’re designed to accommodate low carbon heating from the outset. District heating schemes are perfectly suited to cities and towns because they need a certain density of heat demand so as to be economic. The committee suggests the time between now and 2020 steps should be used to develop policies for providing continued expansion through the upcoming carbon budget periods.
However, the report did note that strategies involving hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks will only come to fruition if there is strong government leadership at local and national levels because such solutions will need good coordination. For example, if heating emissions are to be largely eliminated come the year 2050, a national initiative to move buildings on the gas grid to low carbon heating would need to start by 2030, so government decisions will need to be made sooner rather than later.
Time to act
As the report observed, hot water and heating in UK buildings constitutes about 40 per cent of the country’s energy consumption and 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. In order for these to be eliminated by 2050 in line with the targets set out in the Climate Change Act, work must be undertaken now – yet progress has come to a halt, it would seem.
As set out in the Act, the net UK carbon account for 2050 will have to be at least 80 per cent lower than the 1990 baseline. This figure will be derived from the aggregate amount of net UK emissions of carbon dioxide for the year and net UK emissions of all other targeted greenhouse gasses for the year that is the base year for that gas. At some point in the future, it will have to reach net zero emissions if it is to comply with the Paris Agreement.
However, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has just released a further £320 million to upgrade heating in cities and towns in the UK so that heat can be recycled and low carbon energy supplied. District heating systems will soon become the norm in parts of the country, it would seem, with the scheme intending to reduce heating costs by more than 30 per cent in some cases. These networks are already in play across the UK in residential, commercial and public sector applications.
The Committee report concluded: “The continued roll-out of low-carbon heat networks through the 2020s will require a combination of a supportive planning policy framework and a financing framework … At the same time, government will need to set in train a process for determining the direction of travel for heat decarbonisation post-2030. This includes identifying the decisions to be made through the 2020s, a timeline for making those decisions and the role for different stakeholders, including who is ultimately responsible.”
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