A new paper published today by leading energy system experts Regen, identifies that heat energy, which now accounts for over a third of the UK’s carbon emissions, is the greatest decarbonisation challenge the UK faces to meet its net zero carbon commitment.

 Click here to read the paper 


The paper calls on national government and regional bodies to increase efforts to tackle carbon emissions from buildings and to create a consumer led transformation of heat provision.

Regen director and paper co-author, Johnny Gowdy, says “We need commitment to improve the fabric of the UK’s buildings which are bottom of the league in thermal insulation.  That means getting to grips with zero carbon building standards, and a massive acceleration of energy efficiency measures, both to cut carbon emissions and to tackle fuel poverty”

Regen Heat Paper - Front cover

 The paper identifies actions that need to be taken now to put the UK on track to achieve net zero well ahead of the government’s 2050 target, including:

  • Transforming domestic environmental levies, which account for around 21% of electricity bills, into a new fuel carbon levy.
  • Increasing the market demand for efficient, low carbon, buildings through the housing market and rental sectors.

Johnny Gowdy says “Fundamental changes are needed to ensure that consumers, tenants and building owners see value in shifting to low carbon solutions. These changes must be accompanied by measures to support those in fuel poverty and protect consumers from bill increases through greater energy efficiency and better heating solutions.

Paper co-author Mark Howard says “Heat is a challenge, but as an engineer I also see tremendous opportunities. Our paper highlights some great examples of technology innovation, new building designs and heating solutions which bring exciting opportunities for innovation, new skills and jobs as part of the wider shift to a low carbon economy.

 Wales & West Utilities Energy Strategy Director, Chris Clarke, added: “We welcome this paper from Regen which sets out the challenges we face as a country in decarbonising heat and meeting Net Zero. As the paper makes clear, any solution must put energy customers first – and have their support.

 “Meeting Net Zero in a way that delivers what customers want and need – affordable, reliable and sustainable energy, while keeping community disruption to a minimum is our focus at Wales & West Utilities and are committed to getting our gas network Net Zero ready by 2035. We’re pleased to see Regen acknowledge the regional approaches that will be needed to decarbonise heat, and the important role green gases like hydrogen and biomethane can play through the repurposing of the existing safe and reliable gas network.”

The paper also looks ahead at potential heat decarbonisation pathways including, the widespread electrification of heat supply and the use of clean hydrogen as an alternative low carbon heating fuel. The right solution, the paper argues, is likely to be a combination of heating solutions depending on local and regional factors, all of which need to be underpinned by much higher level of energy efficiency.

Johnny Gowdy said “Achieving net zero will require a radical redesign of heat delivery systems. In the next five years we will need to make some critical strategic decisions that will have far-reaching impacts for consumers, businesses and for the wider society. We must not be afraid to make long term investments, but it is vital that these decisions are clearly evidence based and taken in partnership with regional stakeholders and local communities.”

Heat Paper 16

 The paper is available at: https://www.regen.co.uk/publications/decarbonisation-of-heat/

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Notes for editors

  • Regen is an independent, not for profit, organisation that provides analysis, market insight and energy expertise to help transform the UK’s energy system for a zero carbon future.
  • The “Decarbonisation of heat” paper is the first of a series of thought-provoking papers Regen is producing during 2020 under the theme of “a decade to make a difference”. Each paper will explore the challenges and solutions needed to achieve the transformation to a net zero economy in the UK and what actions the energy industry and policy makers need take within the next decade to make it happen.
  • This discussion paper has been sponsored by Wales and West Utilities, as part of their programme to encourage innovation and thought leadership in the energy sector. All views and opinions expressed in the paper are Regen’s, unless otherwise indicated, and have been taken independently of the paper sponsor.

About Wales & West Utilities

  • Wales & West Utilities is the company that looks after the pipes that keep the gas flowing to the homes and businesses of 7.5m people across Wales and south west England
  • The company is also committed to playing its part in getting to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. 30 power stations connected to its network support renewables like wind and solar power while 19 green gas sites inject enough decarbonised green gas to power 130,000 homes
  • Additionally, company’s network supplies bus garages in three locations across the south west of England, fuelling CNG buses that improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions from public transport.


Key recommendations:

  1. Taking action to prioritise consumer protection, and measures to eradicate fuel poverty, in order to sustain social and political support for change.
  2. Creating a consumer-led market for low carbon heat technologies and services. Specific recommendations include addressing the current fuel price distortions and putting in place a universal carbon levy to incentivise decarbonisation, fuel switching and new business models, alongside other market measures to reward carbon reduction and increase the sale and rental value of low carbon buildings.
  3. Adopting zero carbon building standards and embarking on a deeper and wider programme of efficiency and building fabric improvement, enabling regions, cities, owner-occupiers and businesses to improve building fabric and implement local heat strategies, which will be needed whatever the future heat decarbonisation pathway.
  4. Building consumer trust, and stimulating market demand, by supporting the deployment of technologies and services that offer better, low carbon heating solutions. Engaging with consumers while continuing to support solutions and exemplar projects that can demonstrate consumer value.
  5. Investing in both technology innovation and new infrastructure that will provide the basis for a heat revolution in the coming decades. Prioritising heat technology within the UK’s industrial strategy and enabling strategic infrastructure investment.
  6. Establishing local partnerships, and governance structures, between communities, the public sector and the private sector to plan for and lead the heat transformation.
  7. Expanding and sustaining the low carbon supply chain, including the mass mobilisation and reskilling of heating engineers and service professionals.


Some facts about heat in the UK

  • The UK sits near the bottom of the European league table for heat decarbonisation and also has amongst the worst buildings


  • Approximately 75% of heat in domestic and non-domestic buildings in GB is fuelled by natural gas, with the majority of this used in our homes
  • Around 85%of the 28 million GB households are connected to the gas grid
  • Heat related emissions from homes, commercial buildings and industrial processes account for circa 37% of the UK’s carbon emissions
  • Although UK industrial output has fallen, 38% of heat related emissions are attributable to industrial processes which have been designed around the use of fossil fuels
  • Circa 10% of GB households use electricity as their main source of heating, these households are twice as likely to be in fuel poverty.
  • Depending on which measure is used, between 10% and 13% of households are considered to be living in fuel poverty. This is based on the definition whereby a significant proportion of their low income is spent on energy. In northern areas of the UK the figures are much higher, in Scotland the fuel poverty figure is close to 25%.
  • The high occurrence of fuel poverty has been identified as leading to an estimated 16,500 excess winter deaths in 2017/1817.


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