Decarbonising the UK's heating system is a crucial step towards Net Zero. Embracing heat networks is key to this.
What are the benefits of heat networks?
Heat networks, otherwise known as district heating schemes, currently supply around 2% of the UK's heat. But with an estimated 50% of buildings in the UK located in areas of suitable density for heat networks, the system has the potential to have a far greater impact. But why are district heating schemes so desirable when it comes to decarbonisation?
Heat networks supply heat from a central source to consumers, via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water. They can cover a large area or even an entire city, or be more local, supplying a small cluster of buildings. This avoids the need for individual boilers or electric heaters in every building. Heat networks are sometimes described as 'central heating for cities', with the central heat source often referred to as ‘the energy centre’.
Heat is brought into each building through a heat exchanger which, for a residential connection, is about the same size as a small gas boiler. All the same heating controls are available and to the end-user the central heating and hot water system works in the same way as a domestic gas-fired central heating system, without the need for any combustion to take place inside the building. Heat networks can be various sizes and serve various combinations of building types. They can also be extended over time, and new heat demands and heat sources can be added to the network.
There are many different technologies that can provide the input to a heat network, including:
Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities
Biomass and biogas fuelled boilers
Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants, including gas-fired units
Solar thermal arrays
Heat networks on a larger scale
Whilst the popularity of district heating schemes continues to grow in the UK, Veolia is helping to demonstrate their benefits globally. We have recently been awarded a 30-year concession contract for the operation, maintenance and management of the district heating system of the city of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The heat network serves around 1.2 million inhabitants - half of the city's population. As a first step for Veolia in the country, this project shows the potential of district heating schemes on a much larger scale than is currently seen in the UK.
The UK government is keen to progress the development of district heating systems in this country, with the Green Heat Network Fund and the Heat Network Transformation Project, amongst others, offering funding for low carbon heat networks. Veolia can support organisations and local authorities to take advantage of this opportunity by offering the implementation and maintenance of district and community heating schemes, to help reduce carbon emissions whilst improving efficiency.
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