Cross party report calls on next Government to set heat as a policy priority

A new independent report, 'Pathways for Heat: Low Carbon Heat for Buildings', published today by cross party think tank Carbon Connect, calls on the next Government to set heat as a policy priority for the coming decade.

It predicts that district heating will supply 40% of  needs by 2050, gas will fall by 75-95% and electricity increase from a 10% share to 30-80%.

"The next decade should be spent developing a robust strategy for decarbonising heat in buildings whilst testing and scaling up delivery models."

The report takes stock of what we understand today about the challenge of decarbonising heat for buildings by comparing six pathways for the sector to 2050 from a variety of different organisations such as Department for Energy and Climate Change and National Grid.

Together, the pathways examined in the report paint a picture of the nationwide transformation getting underway in how we heat our homes and buildings.

The report identifies that by 2050, gas used to heat buildings could fall by 75-95%, electricity increase from a 10% share today to 30-80%, and district heat increase from less than 2% to up to a 40% share. At the same time, energy efficiency could help to lower bills and offset the expected growth in our heating needs from an expanding population and building stock.

Across most pathways examined in the report, mass deployment of low carbon heat solutions ramps up in the lead-in to 2030. Overarching recommendation from the Carbon Connect report, which follows a cross party inquiry chaired by shadow energy minister Jonathan Reynolds and Conservative member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee Dan Byles,  is that the next decade should be spent developing a robust strategy for decarbonising heat in buildings whilst testing and scaling up delivery models.

The report calls for the next Government to prioritise these preparations in the same way that preparing for power sector decarbonisation has been the overriding focus of energy policy in the past decade.

Reynolds said:  “This report is an important contribution to the debate about the future of heat policy in Britain. If we are to meet our carbon reduction commitments, we need to think about how we use energy and heat our homes

 Byles said: “Firstly, there is no one solution to cutting emissions from heating homes and buildings, instead we have a range of options including energy efficiency, gas heating, electric heating and district heating. Secondly, now is the time to step up our efforts, prioritise and prepare for transforming the way we heat our homes and buildings.”

Where are we today?

Heat accounts for nearly half of the energy consumed in the UK and a third of carbon emissions. Around 80 per cent of heat is used in homes and other buildings, and gas dominates the fuel mix meeting around 80 per cent of consumers’ heating needs. Industrial heat makes up the remaining 20 per cent and is also an area in need of more attention from policy makers.


Gaps in the evidence base

By comparing six pathways and taking stock of what we understand today, Carbon Connect identifies areas where more work is needed to shape a robust decarbonisation strategy for heat in buildings. In some cases, work is already underway to build a better evidence base, but more is needed to understand the impact of emerging evidence on pathways.

Carbon Connect calls for new local area pathway studies to complement existing national studies, and fill in missing detail on energy networks, the geography of the energy system and characteristics of the buildings stock.

More work is also needed to understand how to meet high heat demand in winter cost effectively, and also to understand consumer and supply chain attitudes which will be critical for success of any decarbonisation strategy.


Energy efficiency

The report finds that energy efficiency could offset growth in heat demand expected from an expanding population and building stock to 2050. However, the amount of retrofit efficiency measures varies considerably across the pathways, particularly for more expensive measures such as solid wall insulation.

Generally, the pathways assume that new buildings have high energy performance standards, reflecting the lifetime benefits of efficient buildings. However, the report points to a risk that new regulations, such as Zero Carbon Homes, will not fully correct market failures and deliver buildings to the high standards assumed across the pathways.



In all the studies examined, gas used to heat buildings falls by at least three quarters by 2050, and sometimes by as much as 95%, to meet carbon targets. Some pathways also identify hybrid gas/electric heating as a valuable transitional technology that is readily acceptable to consumers, takes some pressure off the electricity system and cuts carbon.

Meeting peak heat demand, particularly in the winter, is a challenge and some studies see a continuing role for gas networks as a cost effective tool for this. However, how much of the gas networks might remain in 2050 and where is not well understood because studies do not include much detail about networks and geography.

Biomethane and hydrogen both offer the potential to use gas networks to provide low carbon heat. However, the availability of both ‘green’ gases is uncertain and most studies suggest that they would be more cost effectively used to decarbonise industry or transport rather than buildings.



Across the pathways looked at by Carbon Connect, the share of heat from electricity increases from around 10% today to between 30% and 85%, mainly through heat pumps. Resistive storage heating could also play a role in the most efficient homes and help to balance the electricity system.

Hot water tanks and improved energy efficiency are both important to make homes and buildings suitable for electric heat pumps. However, hot water tanks are currently being removed from at a considerable rate and energy efficiency improvements have stalled.

More recent studies have suggested that electrifying a large proportion of building heat could be an expensive option because of network and power station upgrades needed to meet peaks in demand. The report recommends more work to better understand the variety of tools for meeting peak demand.


District Heat

District heat is the biggest piece of the jigsaw missing from the puzzle of future heat for buildings. Most studies largely ignore the geography of the energy system which is critical for understanding the potential for district heating.

The studies show that district heat could provide up to 40% of building heat, but much more work is needed to understand the cost of district heat in the UK and how schemes could work at a local level. The establishment of the Heat Networks Delivery Unit in DECC is a welcome sign of progress.


About the report: Sponsored by Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA) and the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM), the report is the first in a cross-party and independent inquiry series. The Future Heat Series is sponsored by the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers.


The report can be viewed as a PDF via this link.


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