The decarbonisation of heat represents both an “enormous challenge” and offers “tremendous opportunities”, according to a report.
On 20 July, the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition published a report, setting out the transition to net zero heat could lead to the development of completely new industries, offering large-scale employment and economic growth across the UK. However, The Path To Net Zero Carbon Heat acknowledged all three of the potential pathways it identified present an infrastructure deployment challenge previously unseen in the UK.
A hydrogen-led scenario relies on the rapid development and demonstration of new hydrogen technology across all aspects of the energy system in the next five years. It would require creating and scaling hydrogen production and transmission to produce 100GW to supply over 15mn homes, plus non-domestic users, while electricity capacity would have to more than double – owed to the electrification of personal transport – to 250GW.
In a pathway where heat is electrified, replacing natural gas, together with electric vehicles (EVs) replacing petrol and diesel, electricity capacity would almost quadruple to 400GW in 2050 – up from 110GW today. This would include a five-fold increase in wind and solar generated electricity from 37GW to 170GW in 2050.
A hybrid approach could see the scale of new infrastructure needed reduced, but would result in much greater system complexity and optimisation challenges. It would still require an almost three-fold increase in electricity capacity to 280GW by 2050, together with between 20GW to 30GW of hydrogen production. It could, however, potentially reduce electricity capacity by 25% in comparison to the electrification pathway and hydrogen capacity by at least 70%, when compared to the hydrogen scenario.
Rather than recommend a specific route to net zero heat, the report warned all present challenges. Success will depend on the development of infrastructure being accelerated quickly and maintained. The electrification pathway, for example, would need renewable technology deployed at close to 10GW per year, while deployment for end user heating systems will also have to happen at a substantial rate with conversions of over one million sites in each year, under some scenarios.
It concluded leadership will be required at all levels of government and warned urgent action is needed now to ensure the UK stays on track. It explained that despite the pathways having long-term differences, all will require a set of “common but urgent” activities over the next five years, including making building energy efficiency improvements a national infrastructure priority; increasing deployment of heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps and district heat networks; implementing measures to manage peak load in electricity distribution networks; completing investigations into the feasibility of using hydrogen for heat; and building end-user confidence through public engagement.