Finding a pathway to much-needed UK heat decarbonisation

Whilst we continue to create energy milestones, such as the UK not using any coal to generate electricity for 18 days, renewable heat generation is not making the same headlines.

However, it most certainly has the potential to do so according to a new report which found that the UK could almost triple the use of bioenergy as a source of heat by 2032.

The Renewable Energy Association’s report ‘Bioenergy in the UK – vision to 2032 and beyond’ said that bioenergy, which uses sustainable biomass and biofuels produced from wood, crops and food wastes, is the most cost-effective route to heat decarbonisation. It identified that wood fuels could make a substantially larger contribution to meeting heating needs particularly in off gas-grid properties.

With the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) coming to an end in 2021, we have an opportunity to look at new and innovative ways of financing heat decarbonisation. At AMP we have started to look at what cost-effective mechanisms could be deployed which could avoid a cliff-edge for new renewable installations after 2021.

Whilst the electrification of heat is an obvious route to decarbonisation it is an expensive one and will require significant grid reinforcement at a local level and stand by power generation from peaking plants or storage to manage the intermittency from solar and wind.

Of course, the major challenge that the Government face is having sufficient financial resources available to deliver the desired outcome. As we see it the Government has three levers that they can pull – subsidising renewable heat, legislating against fossil fuel heating and/or imposing a tax on fossil fuel heating. Any of these three mechanisms are unlikely to work in isolation and we will need to look to a combination of all three which meets the objective without negatively impacting on energy affordability nor being too much of a strain on Government coffers.

The transition from a national to a local distributed heat and power model will help support the shift to renewable heat generation. Biomass, which to date has been the most successful technology in the RHI, is one of the solutions which is particularly well suited to the higher temperature commercial and industrial on-site applications.

Momentum to build upon the success of biomass heat is growing. The biomass heat industry has recently come together with one voice to launch the campaign – Biomass Heat Works. The Committee on Climate Change and the International Energy Association have also highlighted the role bioenergy, including biomass, could play in helping meet our renewable heat targets. We now must act on the evidence and find a cost-effective mechanism to stimulate the transition to a renewable heat future.