School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing

Leeds Beckett linked to industry report on the future of heating in the nation's homes

Over the last few years, Dr Fiona Fylan, Head of Sustainable Behaviour at the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI), has been leading research projects with the Northern Gas Network (NGN) into the acceptability of hydrogen to be used as a heating fuel in UK homes. NGN are members of the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), who have just published a review on the future of low carbon heating options for UK homes. Because of the LSI research on public acceptance of low carbon heating, the authors asked if we could provide comments on their report and if I would write a foreword.

Radiator illuminated with yellow light to show energy usage.

As Head of Energy Efficiency and Policy at the LSI, I undertake research into improving the fabric efficiency of homes. From my research projects and my experience gained while seconded into the home energy team at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), I have come to appreciate just how intertwined the issues of the energy efficiency of homes and low carbon heat are, especially in the context of the UK’s 2050 net zero carbon target; indeed the former may be a prerequisite of the latter.

Recent industry and Government reports rightly identify heat pumps as a no regrets first step for UK homes, towards a much broader future low carbon heating landscape. In fact, policy already exists to support the transition to low carbon heat, for example, the Government have banned all new homes from being connected to the gas grid by 2025.  This legislation may be news to most of us, despite its imminent arrival, and is symptomatic that we do not necessarily comprehend exactly what low carbon heat means to our daily lives, nor what practical changes and choices we may face in our homes quite soon.

I am fascinated by the complexities in the low carbon heating debate, and this report is by no means perfect; for example, it perhaps underplays that many of the homes that are currently deemed “unsuitable” for heat pumps, could become “suitable” if they underwent deep retrofits. It also makes light of the logistical and political challenges of switching off gas for entire neighbourhoods at a time and requiring they switch to hydrogen, something that Dr Fylan’s research is particularly interested in. Plus, there is not a great deal of attention given to the lack of certainty on the future costs of delivering alternative fuels like hydrogen and biogas to homes in the future, which will surely make a difference to policy and consumer choice.

However, it is a useful report that makes a positive contribution to the debate, and should therefore be welcomed, as it manages to shine light on important issues in an accessible format. The future of low carbon heat is clearly not yet certain, and much is still to be decided upon by politicians, scientists, and industry, but most importantly, by us all in our homes trying to stay warm.

 

Dr David Glew

Reader / School Of Built Environment, Engineering And Computing

Dr Glew is Head of Energy Efficiency at the LSI and manages the LSI interdisciplinary research projects on domestic retrofits. Over the last 5 years he has been responsible for delivering research contracts worth over £3 million, aimed at informing energy policy. He has published in multiple peer review publications, supervises doctoral students in the LSI and has been appointed to government advisory panels.

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