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Archive for the ‘DECC’ Category

Operational data from onsite energy systems (like heat networks) is extremely hard to come by. Very few people manage to get hold of it, and those who have it rarely share.

What are the typical loads in dwellings? What are the network losses? Do customers all demand heating at the same time or are demand events spread out?

Who knows? Engineers don’t stick around and find out how their designs work in real life; ESCOs hold their cards close to their chests; and many landlords fail to extract or make use of their own data.

This dearth of data has hamstrung the industry at a time when it should be racing ahead. It’s one of the biggest reasons why, when it comes to energy performance, we’re just not getting better fast enough.

In late 2014, when DECC put out a call for proposals to improve heat networks, we saw a chance to unlock some of these data silos and accelerate development of the heat market.

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gilliganAndskipperIn a shock move, last autumn the chancellor allocated £300m to heat networks to be spent over the next 5 years. This funding presents a golden opportunity, but there’s a real danger it will be spent delivering more of what we’ve already got.

Largely driven by planning policy, the district heat market is currently made up of tens of thousands of small networks, each on its own little island with few connections to bigger sources of low carbon heat. Poorly delivered and rarely checked, many of these networks suffer from dismal efficiency.

As I pointed out in my last post, the industry is busy grappling with just getting the basics right: reducing heat losses from networks and protecting end customers. But time is short: the UK’s looming carbon targets mean that even at this early stage in market development, we have to stay focused on the endgame of CO2 reduction.

So how should DECC spend the money? Here are my suggestions:

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SJGR

The chancellor has allocated £300m to heat networks. What happens next matters – a lot.

When I started working in the low carbon sector in the early noughties, it felt like we had all the time in the world. You could tinker about with gizmos like earth pipes and building-mounted wind turbines and feel like you were doing good. Hockey stick carbon graphs seemed a bit abstract and rarely got people’s blood pumping.

The intervening years have flashed past. Now in 2016, Governments, businesses and communities around the world have woken up to the scale of the threat from climate change. Pressure to act is mounting.

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Heat networks finished 2015 on a high. In a year in which the Government hammered almost every other part of the low carbon sector, heat networks not only escaped harm, they unexpectedly received a £300m boost in November’s Comprehensive Spending Review. And there may even be further support if projects can secure a share of new innovation funding at DECC.

So you might expect this market to rapidly pick up speed. But funding is only part of the picture. Even more important is policy, because just like a species is shaped by its ecosystem, heat networks are shaped by their policy landscape.

This landscape can be defined by three key features: the CIBSE Code of Practice, the Heat Trust rules and SAP. Influential as they may be, these three features aren’t set in stone. Far from it. All three will undergo major changes in 2016, with so much potential to shake up the market that it’s tough to predict how projects will look (commercially, technically, legally) a year from now.

What might these upcoming changes mean for projects, practitioners and operators?

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Final energy

UK Energy by End Use

Nearly all of the primary energy we use in the UK is in the form of  coal, oil and gas. This energy is the source of almost all our emissions – emissions which must be slashed to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

When considering this challenge, rather than look at the primary energy, it’s useful to look at what we use the energy for.

Given the recent press about “keeping the lights on” you might think most of our energy is for generating electricity for lighting and appliances. But you’d be wrong. Using DECC’s energy consumption statistics for the UK, I put together the pie chart above to illustrate.

The result? We mainly use energy for just two things: heat and transport. In other words, almost all the energy we use is for warming things up or moving things around. And only a tiny proportion is for lighting.

So the next time you hear the word energy, don’t think electricity. Don’t even think oil and gas. Think heat and transport – this is where we’ve got to innovate to meet our carbon targets.

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In the previous post, I highlighted where innovation is taking place in the UK district heating market. In this post, I’d like to flag up some important areas where innovation isn’t happening – but really should be. Below are a few of the biggest blocks in the market, where change is desperately needed but so far not forthcoming.

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I’ve been invited to do a short talk at a UK Trade and Industry event for investors in heat networks, giving an overview of innovation in the sector. This gives me an excuse to do some research and summarise it in this post – and also an opportunity to ask readers what I’ve missed.

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