11 November 2013 1 comment

Evidence given to Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change regarding UK heat policy

Given the complete muddle of UK policy on heating and climate change, which is a much bigger problem than renewable electricity, I decided to submit evidence to the Select Committee as part of their investigation into renewable heat. The full text is here, abstract below.

Abstract

This paper focuses solely on domestic heating.  It shows that in order to meet the obligations of the Climate Change Act, and also the policy objectives for aviation by 2050, the UK’s domestic heating has to be completely decarbonised.  This can either be done by electricity, or perhaps using new technologies to synthesise methane or hydrogen using spare summer electricity.  No other renewable resources, such as biomass or biogas, can make other than marginal contributions.

The fundamental problems are twofold – generating the required energy, and meeting the peak power demands.  The solutions dwarf the challenge of decarbonising the existing electricity grid.  Both of these problems are essentially intractable with current technology.

The problems can be alleviated by the extensive, and expensive, use of insulation and heat pumps – no other current technology will make other than a very marginal contribution.  However even the most optimistic assessment of the potential savings leaves a new carbon free power requirement that is greater than the entire current generating capacity of the UK.  European connection is unlikely to help.

There are ways to approach the solution, but they involve intense, well funded, research programs that consider the entire energy system as a whole unit – from power source to house thermostat.  The market alone cannot deliver the degree of coherence needed – it will require substantial Government involvement and support.

There are also policy measures which could be implemented quickly and cheaply that would be more effective than the existing RHI and Green Deal in the domestic sector, and would help accelerate substantially the decarbonisation of heat.

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