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Collaboration is key to unlocking the potential of heat networks

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Nathan Sanders, Managing Director of SSE Enterprise Distributed Energy

Decarbonisation of heat is mission critical for SSE Enterprise and heat networks can play a huge role in the decarbonisation of our energy system. The Committee on Climate Change has identified that in order to achieve the UK's 2050 net zero carbon targets, around 18% of heat will need to come from heat networks and the Heat Network Industry Council (HNIC) is committed to deliver that.

In addition, the HNIC will commit to create around 16,000 direct jobs and unlock up to £40billion by 2050. In SSE we stand ready to support the development of a co-ordinated programme of training and development to ensure that the sector has the skills and capacity to deliver the “step change” needed to meet the 2050 targets.

So, heat networks can play a major role in the green recovery we all want as we move to a post-Covid-19 world; and we stand ready to deliver on that ambition.

In my business, SSE Enterprise, we already operate 16 heat networks sites plus two hospitals, across the UK and we will serve about 20,000 customers from bespoke on-site heating and cooling energy centres that are cleaner and cheaper than individual boilers.

But we know we need to do more to help reach net zero. So, for example in London, our heat network in Wandsworth draws heat from the aquifer below the site and uses heat pumps and gas CHP to provide low carbon heat, hot water, cooling and electricity to the site. Being a heat pump led solution also means that as the electricity grid continues to decarbonise, so too does our heat and cooling supply to the site.

We are also a founder member of the Heat Trust, because it has been our long-held belief that as we move towards regulation industry players must set the highest standards possible to give their customers every comfort they can.

So, industry collaboration is not something we’re new to. I’m personally delighted to be part of the HNIC which will give sector leaders the chance to work in concert with legislators to help shape the heat networks market for success.

That’s why the launch of the HNIC policy paper is good news for consumers. The HNIC is the clearest signal yet to them that they can expect the right legislation when it comes to regulating the heat network market because its participants are working together.

The formation of the HNIC is also good news for our efforts to decarbonise, which will require coordination and innovation between industry and its stakeholders. We need to work together to overcome policy and planning hurdles to encourage industry investment.

Heat networks can distribute heat from a diverse range of low carbon energy sources which currently includes large-scale heat pumps, efficient gas CHP, waste heat (e.g. Data Centres) and large-scale biomass. Thus, they can be a low-cost option to helping hit net zero targets.

Well-designed networks utilising thermal stores, co-generation and system optimisation can deliver warmth, cooling and security to our homes and businesses. They can also deliver community benefits and contribute to wider energy system flexibility and resilience.

Heat is also a key element of a ‘whole system approach’ to bring about integrated smart energy systems that work in a multi-vector way. This allows us to show that heat is just one of many ways we can help decarbonise; if it’s considered as part of an integrated solution.

And finally, being generally fuel agnostic means heat networks can be built in the spirit of being a ‘no regrets’ option as various pathways to decarbonisation emerge – making them the best ‘here and now’ option out there to decarbonise our homes.

The heat networks sector shares the Government’s ambition to decarbonise heat as part of delivering the UK’s zero carbon targets. The online launch of the HNIC reflects that ambition, as well as being what I believe to be a key roadmap on our net zero journey.

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