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Heat in a devolved world

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by Liz Warren, SE2

There has been much talk recently about devolution: greater powers for nations and increased budgetary control and scope for cities and counties too. But what are the implications of devolution for heat?


 

Let’s consider the story of Scotland: in June 2015, the Scottish Government published its Heat Policy Statement, which aims to remove almost all carbon from the heat system by 2050. Figures announced in October 2015 show that renewable heat generation has increased by 36% in just one year, with almost 10,000 micro renewable heat systems up and running.

Nationally driven policy and programmes have certainly helped. The Home Renewables Loan Scheme, the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and support from Resource Efficiency Scotland are all driven by the Scottish Government. If anything, UK policy uncertainty is putting the brakes on further development.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, quoted in Holyrood Magazine, said: “We are committed in helping support households and business across become more energy efficient and use more low carbon and renewable heat sources.

“There is however continuing uncertainty about the Renewable Heat Incentive, which the UK Government have not commitment to beyond March 2016. We will continue to press for commitment to the long term sustainability of the RHI beyond next year to provide confidence for funders and stimulate investment in renewable heat technologies.”

Elsewhere, devolution discussions carry on apace. In Greater Manchester, district heating is already very much on the agenda, with several authorities undertaking development work supported by the national Heat Network Delivery Unit, an example of a national programme supporting heat in a devolved future world.  The devolution of health budgets to Greater Manchester could provide an interesting link into the rollout of affordable and lower carbon heat sources particularly to fuel poor households or those more at risk from living in cold homes.

Cornwall is at the vanguard of county-level devolution discussions. Alastair Mumford of Regen SW told us:

“Overall devolution should enable Cornwall to develop initiatives better fitting with local resources and issues, developing synergies between council and government priorities. The devolution package states agreement by government and the council to investigate how local and neighbourhood plans can support local ownership models, including heat networks.  The deal references a ‘community heat pilot’ and the council has an excellent track record in supporting community renewable electricity.

“The deal should help the council in setting up a Low Carbon Enterprise Zone which aspires to develop geothermal, an important priority for the area, and other renewable technologies.  The scheme could see new build and retrofit heat networks as well as attracting in industries with high heat demands.”

Devolution is not the same as divorce: Mumford believes that while devolution helps councils to shape policies that best fit their geography, there is also opportunity for closer engagement with Government Departments. And there are things which are best driven at the national scale. Says Mumford:

“Change in basic infrastructure such as the way we generate heat does require an overall national framework to drive down costs and risks. If we end up with regions pushing forward with initiatives that are specific to their area and don’t join up, they won’t create an overall market that the supply chain can react to and invest in. Whilst devolution is a positive opportunity for renewable heat, therefore, we do not think government can simply wash its hands of the need to provide that framework.”

As Scotland and Cornwall are both demonstrating, a clear ambition and policy statement can make all the different. Alastair Mumford explains:

“Devolution can dramatically improve low carbon heat in an area but it needs to go hand-in-hand with a detailed strategy.  This strategy needs to be developed with the community and reflect best practice within and outside the region. The strategy needs to enable the supply chain to develop its skills and capacity.”

Greater Manchester meanwhile has carried out extensive citywide heat mapping and through its Energy Plan has identified how changes in energy generation and supply can contribute to the City-Region’s ambition to reduce CO2 emissions by 48% by 2020 compared to 1990.

The future of heat is local – district heating networks and local renewable heat generation are starting to feature more and more in our energy mix – though they have a long way to go! Devolution can help place the power to deliver change in the hands of local communities, though it will be interesting to see how this is balanced with national enthusiasm for developing fracking and our ongoing commitments to a robust and interconnected gas network.

How will all the pieces of the puzzle fit together? Join the debate at the Heat Conference on Wednesday 25 November to have your say. You can book your place at www.heatconference.co.uk.

 

 

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