Citizens Advice: Government lacking ‘credible’ plan to decarbonise heat

The Government's failure to implement a "credible" framework for the decarbonisation of heat for commercial and domestic use could undermine public confidence in the net-zero transition, Citizens Advice has warned.

Citizens Advice: Government lacking ‘credible’ plan to decarbonise heat

The UK's heat networks currently serve about 500

In a letter to Ministers today, the charity criticises the Government for leaving “large gaps” in policies surrounding the regulation of low-carbon technologies like heat networks.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has consistently claimed that heat networks could deliver up to 18% of UK heating demand by 2030. Taking notice of this, the Government has recently launched a £320m scheme to help accelerate the adoption of low-carbon heat networks across the UK’s public, private and domestic sectors and an Energy Systems Catapult centre to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with decarbonising their heat systems.

While welcoming this progress, Citizens Advice is arguing that policy is not currently sufficient to protect consumers during the decarbonisation of heat and is likely to result in customer confusion, infrequent and inaccurate billing, and, therefore, overpayment. The charity is voicing concerns that, as most of the costs related to the decarbonisation of the energy system are currently paid for through energy bills, those on low incomes could end up paying a disproportionate share of that cost.

The organisation’s key recommendation for preventing this is the establishment of an independent commission on a “just” transition to low-carbon energy, including heat. It is additionally calling for a consultation on the Government’s upcoming Energy White Paper, to be made open to industry and the general public, as well as legislation to extend Ofgem’s regulation powers to cover heat networks.

Citizens Advice’s chief executive Gillian Guy has claimed that these moves need to be undertaken as soon as possible “to prevent the bad practice of today becoming the standard practice of tomorrow”.

“The way we heat our homes needs to undergo a major transformation, and how we manage that process and fairly distribute the costs needs the urgent attention of Government,” Guy said.

“An independent commission is the only way to make sure the pathway to net-zero is assessed in a rigorous, transparent and timely way.”

Industry progress

The UK currently plays host to around 14,000 heat networks, which collectively serve more than half a million customers – both business and domestic.

However, much more will need to be done in this space if the UK is going to meet its new 2050 target of a net-zero carbon economy, the CCC has claimed. Heating and hot water account for around 15% of the UK’s overall carbon footprint, with the nation currently off-track to meet a key target of ensuring 12% of heat is generated using renewables by 2020. 

Responding to Citizens Advice’s report, the Association of Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) head of operations Lily Frencham said: “Citizens Advice are right that there is a need for a credible plan from the Government, working with industry and other key interests, to decarbonise heat if net-zero is to be delivered.

“The building of more heat networks is widely acknowledged to be a key component to any future plans. They are key in urban areas, allowing towns and cities up to capture otherwise wasted heat and deliver it to homes and offices driving down emissions.  Appropriate regulation of heat networks is necessary, to provide customers with confidence and protection around issues such as billing, while giving businesses and local authorities confidence to make the necessary investment in the new heat networks that will be needed.”

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Heat networks sound great and in principle if installed in new build developments can be very effective ways of heating as long as the homes they are supplying are built to the Platinum standard of energy efficiency and insulation and not the brass standard currently aimed for (and often missed).

    There’s a new 400 home development alongside a new hospital and STEM centre near me. An ideal opportunity to put in a district Ground Source Heat Pump and Water Source Heat Pump (Loch Linnhe is less than a mile away with copious amounts of Gulf Stream heat to use) but the houses are going to be built to the bare minimal standard and there’s no talk of district heating. Wasted opportunities meaning householders will probably be faced with large upgrade bills in the future.

    Then there is the question of how do we decarbonise the existing housing stock? I’ve looked into alternatives to my oil fired heating (A rated condensing boiler before anyone screams) and frankly it is out of reach financially. I’m looking at in excess of 10,000 so until my boiler packs in I’m not even going to think about it.

    To install an Air Source or Ground Source system I need to replace all the piping and radiators or try to install underfloor heating. Then there is the question of heating the 300litre hot water tank. I could simply switch the electric immersion on but that will take twice as long and cost nearly 4 times as much (not to mention where does the electricity come from – in my case renewably sourced and probably hydro electric given I live in the Highlands).

    I’m not prepared to freeze in winter as the "warm and fuzzy" feeling isn’t going to be enough to heat my home so until there is a proper system in place to help ALL households decarbonise (not just those on benefits) I will continue to buy my oil from a company that plants a tree for every 1000 litres purchased to offset at least some of the emissions.

  2. Robert Oliver Hinton says:

    All very interesting but the key precursor to any discussion on heat supply should be heat demand. Where are the methods, incentives and targets to significantly reduce heat demand, particularly for the existing housing stock?

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