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Green Heat 2

By Dave Elliott

The governments new Heat Strategy review took on board many of the arguments for district heating, and even the use of solar, that previously had been rather marginalised. It identified pathways for the transition of the UK’s heat supply to low- and zero-carbon energy sources in the domestic and industrial sectors.

The Combined Heat and Power Association (CHPA) was delighted. It said that ‘the Strategy points the way to a major expansion of new district heating networks in towns and cities, driving a multi-billion pound investment programme in green infrastructure and creating an additional 40,000 jobs in construction and engineering’.

The CHPA noted that previous Government studies had suggested that 8 million dwellings could be connected to district heating at reasonable cost, along with a major share of commercial and public buildings, through a 25 year capital programme, investing £2bn p.a. in new district heating infrastructure. Through this programme carbon emissions from heating would be halved and reduced to around 9 million tonnes per annum. It added ‘Networks could adapt to obtain heat from gas-fired CHP plant, biomass and biogas, heat pumps, energy-from-waste, solar thermal, along with heat rejected from industrial processes and power stations. This approach, which is commonplace in continental Europe and Scandinavia, delivers reliability and security to energy users and provides a credible and practical pathway to decarbonisation.’

However the policy shift wasn’t that large: the Heat Review still backs electrification as the main supply focus, since ‘electricity is universally available’ and, in well insulated houses, heat pumps can make using it for heating relatively economic. But it did admit that gas grids act as energy stores and are better at coping with variable demand, so that there would, in an electrified system, be more need for storage and demand management, as well as a lot more green generation capacity- almost double the present amount, given electrification of transport as well! Basically from nuclear and offshore wind, plus gas CCS.

Even so, it looks to biomethane and hydrogen, as new fuels, sourced from biomass, that could be used for heating, although it warns that biomass resources will be ‘constrained and contested’ and probably best used for industry and transport, where higher energy intensities are important. And, a little provocatively, it says large-scale biomethane injection into the gas grid is not realistic ‘when efficiency losses are taken into account’.

So, apart from some direct use by industry for process heating and for local district heat networks, it sees gas delivery on a national scale is being phased out, with cooking being done by electric hobs and perhaps induction heaters. A big change for many people. Interestingly, micro CHP is seen as just a transitional option, but solar heating is seen as valuable, especially if combined with interseasonal storage, implying large scale ‘heat accumulators’ /community heating systems. The industry section is useful, with, in addition to improved process efficiency, gas and biomass CCS seen as a possible option.
Overall interesting then, still wedded mainly to electricity, plus some heat networks. But there are few actual commitments or future supply numbers, just a general plan: a full policy is promised within a year. See www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_034/pn12_034.aspx.

Things do seem to take time! The Renewable Heat Incentive for example- which was meant to start the ball rolling. It was set up in two parts, with support of larger business schemes already established, along with an interim domestic-scale grant competition, the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme (RHPP), offering one-off payments for homeowners wishing to install green heating systems. DECC had been expected to launch the full domestic RHI in October this year, alongside the Green Deal loan scheme, but it has now decided to delay it until summer 2013, and will instead inject an extra £10m into the budget for the interim RHPP, taking it up to £25m, while reviewing cost control measures.

After its run-in with the PV solar Feed-In Tariff, the government is clearly worried that the projected costs of the RHI scheme, which unlike the FiT, will be met out of government funds, i.e. from taxes, will need to be controlled and kept below the fixed £860m budget. So it’s launched proposals to carefully manage the RHI budget. For the existing business scheme, as a temporary measure, it will suspend registrations at one month’s notice once 80% of the budget has been allocated. DECC said it will introduce proposals for a permanent cost-control mechanism by the end of the financial year, which could see tariffs fall in line with increased uptake.

Meanwhile, under the new extended RHPP, for the first time, communities seeking to install renewable heating systems will be able to take advantage of the scheme, with around £8m of the budget set aside for local projects. DECC has also earmarked £10m for social landlords to upgrade heating systems, after the social landlord competition last year received such a strong interest that DECC increased the initial £3m budget to £4m.

The Government said it wanted at least 25,000 households to take up RHI offers in the first year. So far, under the first phase of the RHPP, £4.8m has been cashed in by housholders, and 37 social housing schemes have also registered But, given the new review, Gaynor Hartnell, Renewable Energy Association CEO, feared the market will be killed off before it even starts: ‘To launch an official consultation on bringing the shutters down, having only just fired the starting gun on the RHI, is premature to say the least’. See www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/meeting-energy-demand/heat/4805-future-heating-strategic-framework.pdf.

Some of the heating issues were followed up in the subsequent DECC, DEFRA and DfT Bioenergy strategy, which backs the ‘use of biomass to provide low carbon heat for buildings and industry (process heating), through either biomass boilers or through use of biomethane’. It adds ‘Use of recoverable waste heat from low carbon power generation or industrial processes is also an important component of this pathway’, noting that ‘combined heat and power generation offers more efficient use of the biomass resources and should be promoted where possible’.

It also notes that Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BE-CCS) offers net carbon removal from the atmosphere or ‘negative emissions’, which ‘could then be used to offset fossil fuel emissions from other harder to decarbonise sectors. This makes BE-CCS an exceptionally valuable technological option’

The Combined Heat and Power Association was again delighted, noting that the stress had shifted to the use of heat networks rather than individual boilers to provide domestic heat, and the recovery of waste heat when used in an industrial setting.  See www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/charlesh_bgbio/charlesh_bgbio.aspx.

It does seem that, for once, new ideas are beginning to be listened to. I will be exploring some of them in my next Blog.

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