Local heat networks are emerging as a crucial solution in the United Kingdom's ambitious journey towards decarbonising its building stock.

These networks, also known as district heating systems, supply heat from a central source to multiple buildings through insulated pipes. By utilising various heat sources, including waste heat, biomass, and electric heating technologies, these networks significantly reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and lower carbon emissions.  

The heating of our building stock is a major contributor to the country's carbon footprint, accounting for around 37% of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions1. With the Government legally bound to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, transforming the way buildings are heated is essential. Local heat networks present an efficient and scalable solution, particularly in densely populated urban areas where individual renewable heating systems might be impractical.  

A key advantage of these networks is their ability to integrate diverse and renewable energy sources. For instance, the Bunhill 2 Energy Centre in London uses waste heat from the London Underground to supply over 1,350 homes, a school, and two leisure centres with low-carbon heating2. This not only reduces emissions but also utilises energy that would otherwise be wasted, enhancing overall energy efficiency.  

Statistics underscore the growing impact and potential of heat networks in the UK. According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), heat networks currently supply about 2% of UK buildings, but this could increase to 18% by 2050 with appropriate investment and policy support3. Moreover, BEIS estimates that by 2050, heat networks could save up to 10 million tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to the annual emissions of over 6 million cars.  

The Government recognises the importance of heat networks in meeting its climate targets. Initiatives like the £320 million Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) are designed to accelerate the development of new heat networks and upgrade existing ones. This funding aims to unlock around £1 billion of private and public investment, supporting the creation of more efficient and sustainable heating systems across the country. According to industry watchers, this investment could potentially be worth tens of billions4.

Role of planning policy

Planning policy will play a crucial role in the successful expansion of heat networks. Local authorities are increasingly embedding heat network policies into their local plans, ensuring that new developments are compatible with district heating systems. For example, the London Plan mandates that major new developments must evaluate the feasibility of connecting to existing heat networks and, where currently possible, must connect to them. However, given the vintage of the majority of our existing building stock, providing full connectivity to local heat networks will not be without disruption due to the infrastructure upgrades required.  

Local heat networks will be a key measure to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and enhancing the energy efficiency and sustainability of our buildings. The Government's commitment, reflected in substantial funding initiatives like the HNIP, underscores the critical role of heat networks in meeting climate targets. As local authorities increasingly incorporate heat network policies into their planning frameworks, the expansion of these systems will become more feasible, despite the challenges posed by upgrading existing infrastructure.  

Carter Jonas' ESG services support the decarbonisation of the built environment by integrating ESG considerations into the acquisition, operation, and management of real estate. These services include comprehensive assessments of energy efficiency, carbon intensity, and the feasibility of on-site renewable energy generation. By implementing strategic approaches to resource efficiency and compliance with environmental standards, Carter Jonas helps landlords, tenants, and investors enhance long-term asset value and meet regulatory requirements.  

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@ Tom Roundell Greene
Tom Roundell Greene
Head of Sustainability
020 3325 0102 Email me About Tom

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