What’s required to decarbonise the UK economy?

8 March 2019
Government policy and increased investment is beginning to have an impact on understanding the potential sources of heat in our urban areas, this is a crucial move to ensure holistic energy planning.
CGI projection of completed projects, with Wembley Way approach in foreground

CGI projection of completed projects, with Wembley Way approach in foreground

Lucy Padfield

Director, Energy
T: +44 7967 799 431

Over the past few years ambitious policy to reduce climate changing emissions across the energy system has been the response from the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments, not least the recent Committee on Climate Change report about reducing emissions from UK homes. The two-pronged strategy of funding and changing legislation demonstrates their commitment. Notably for the District Heating sector there is £320m of government funding (Heat Networks Investment Project) available and an emerging consultation on regulating the market. In London, policy requiring district heating is more advanced, with large scale new developments adopting district heating, such as Wembley Park regeneration. In Scotland funding is driving new projects in Stirling and at Queens Quay; and the Scottish Government has consulted on the regulation of district heating.
The electricity market is experiencing rapid decarbonisation from technologies (such as wind and solar) whose generation fluctuates and is less predictable.  This creates a greater need for electricity storage capacity and intelligent systems that balance supply and demand. The decarbonisation of heat requires a move away from gas and oil, and the low carbon options for heat are now changing to heat pumps, solar thermal, fuel cells, biomass and electric heating.

The lifecycle costs of these alternatives is likely to be more expensive than a continued reliance on natural gas if society doesn’t undertake a far more strategic approach. For lower density areas – particularly domestic houses – scaling up of supply chains to deliver a large roll out of low carbon solutions is needed and this might allow alternative solutions to become competitive with gas boilers, but this brings other challenges including increasing stress on the power grid. Where population density is high however, rapid expansion of district heating is feasible.

Ramboll is currently part of a government push to identify potential heat networks across the country, including energy mapping and masterplanning projects in Colchester, St Albans and Hartlepool. This includes the mapping of heat demands across each area and identifying and assessing cost-effective opportunities for low carbon heat network development. Where possible, the studies will also consider opportunities for combined heating, cooling and power generation. The outcome of this work will demonstrate sustainable options for heat decarbonisation in these areas. and provide a route map to take feasible projects to feasibility and beyond. In addition, we are supporting energy system owners in the design and construction of innovative new energy centres and district heating systems at Wembley, Bunhill (using heat from the Tube), Stirling (using waste sewage heat) and Queens Quay (using heat from the Clyde).
With the UK market fast evolving and trying to course a path that looks more at the whole energy system, understanding the potential of heat networks are a vital step. We just need to look to the examples set in Scandinavian cities to see the impact. Copenhagen for example has an ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2025. Their integrated District Heating and Cooling system covering the City of Copenhagen and 24 surrounding municipalities has since the 1980s developed into a world-class system, which today covers 98% of the total heat demand in the district heating zones, mainly through CHP and waste-to-energy (but also moving to low temperature / low carbon heat sources). And in Oslo, where their climate and energy strategy to cut its fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030 and become fossil-free in 2050 takes a holistic approach to decarbonisation concerns, energy resources, energy production and distribution as well as energy consumption in all sectors.


CGI projection of completed projects, with Wembley Way approach in foreground

Wembley Park regeneration

When property developer Quintain embarked on transforming the long-neglected area surrounding the iconic Wembley stadium, into a new district and exciting hub, they sought Ramboll as an engineering partner who could fully realise their ambitious sustainability agenda.

Heat from the London metro is used for additional heating of 500 households

Bunhill 2 District Heating Network - Heating up London

Ramboll was commissioned by Islington Council in London to design and deliver a district-wide heating network to provide cheaper and greener heat to 1,350 homes plus community buildings in north London, using unwanted heat from the London Underground. 

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