Race for heat decarbonisation would spur UK’s green economic recovery

21 Jul 2020 | 04:15 pm | 2 min. read

A new report published by the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition explores the scale of infrastructure change needed to achieve net zero heat. The challenge is such that urgent action is required, but the transition to net zero heat offers tremendous opportunities and could lead to the development of completely new industries offering large scale employment and economic growth across the UK.

Written by a group of forward-thinking UK businesses and public sector organisations, The Path To Zero Carbon Heat report provides pathways for decarbonising the heating of Britain’s homes and workplaces by 2050 – responsible for 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas footprint. It presents three possible scenarios and highlights the need for government to make early decisions about the paths to take and set supporting regulation:

  1. The electrification of heat, replacing natural gas, together with electric vehicles replacing petrol and diesel, will lead to an almost quadrupling of total electricity capacity to 400GW in 2050, up from 110GW today, including a more than five-fold increase in wind and solar generated electricity from 37GW today to 170GW in 2050.
  2. A hydrogen led scenario for heating is reliant on the rapid development and demonstration of new hydrogen technology across all aspects of the energy system within the next five years. This will then require creating and scaling of hydrogen production and transmission to produce 100GW to supply over 15 million homes plus non-domestic users. Electricity capacity will still more than double, owing to the electrification of personal transport, to 250GW.
  3. A hybrid approach will potentially reduce the scale of new infrastructure needed but has much greater system complexity and optimisation challenges. It will still mean an almost three-fold increase in electricity capacity to 280GW by 2050, in addition to between 20GW and 30GW of hydrogen production. The hybrid approach offers the potential to reduce electricity capacity by 25% in comparison to the electrification scenario, and hydrogen capacity by at least 70% in comparison to the hydrogen scenario.

Anne-Marie Friel, infrastructure partner at Pinsent Masons said, "Decarbonising Britain’s infrastructure will unleash a wave of new investment, growth and employment. Government needs to seize this opportunity and accelerate policy and regulation as key enablers.”

The report does not prescribe a specific route to net zero heat, but all scenarios considered present challenges. All require taking technologies such as CCS and auto-thermal reforming from pilot stage or infancy, through to readiness in the late 2020s, through to mass deployment starting in 2030 and continuing to 2050. This represents an enormous challenge in infrastructure deployment previously unseen in the UK.

The development of infrastructure will need to be accelerated quickly and maintained. For example, the massive scale of electrical generation capacity as part of the electrification scenario represents deployment of renewable technology at close to 10GW/year – scales of deployment with few historic precedents. Deployment for end user heating systems themselves will also happen at a tremendous rate with conversions of over one million sites in each year in some scenarios.

The changeover to Net-Zero heat requires a complex mixture of national, regional and city involvement, systems thinking and extensive digitalisation. Getting this mixture right could radically reduce cost and delivery times, and requires all stakeholder to take action in the near term.

New skills need be developed, with a refocus of existing expertise. This will require a change in mindset, to think ahead of time and put in place the infrastructure to develop those skills.

Ross Ramsay project manager for the coalition said: “The technology, skills and know-how to decarbonise heat will be in demand globally. This scale of investment in decarbonising the heating of over 25 million UK homes, plus non-domestic buildings, will create new industries, jobs and apprenticeships at scale, and place Britain at the forefront of the race to Net Zero.”

Our report chimes with the findings of the CBI’s (the CBI have been part of the steering group for this project) own forthcoming report on net-zero heat which also highlights the requirement for urgent action and the potential opportunity of green recovery,” Ross continues.

The Path To Zero Carbon Heat has been led by Mott MacDonald with support from a working group comprising Energy Systems Catapult, Engie, Leeds City Council, National Grid, Pinsent Masons, Delta-EE, University of Leeds, the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) and the UK Green Building Council.

Download the report

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