Helping local government boost UK’s net zero heat surge – says university report

New findings urge government to accelerate larger-scale regional trials of heat decarbonisation plans that can be adopted and implemented at local government level

Work to dramatically scale up the uptake of low-carbon heating systems should be led by local and regional governments, according to new findings from the University of Birmingham.

A University-led Policy Commission report called on the UK government to introduce long-term policies to better empower local authorities to implement heat decarbonisation strategies.

Among the main recommendations to the government in the conclusions are calls for the introduction of a formal ban on the sale of natural gas boilers from 2035 and new funding for “pioneer projects” that can be implemented. at the scale of the city or a large community. These pathfinders should be used to ensure the decarbonization of at least 30,000 households over the next five years, the report adds.

Examples of Pathfinder projects

A minimum of three major scouts are requested in the conclusions over a period of five years. These should focus on delivering low-carbon heat to entire neighborhoods.

A notable example given in the report is the potential for a pilot project to be implemented in an area such as East Birmingham. The area was selected because of its high levels of energy poverty and a mix of housing types which broadly mirrors the UK housing stock nationally.

East Birmingham was also recommended due to the number of nearby local heat sources, such as an untapped waste heat resource at Tyseley Energy Park, the report said.

Professor Martin Freer, director of the university-based Birmingham Energy Institute, said it was essential to commit to larger-scale testing of new approaches to providing heat as soon as possible.

He added, “The government needs to invest in these big projects to learn how to modernize and decarbonize neighborhoods at scale.”

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, said the need to change heating systems in some 24 million homes over the next few decades required clear policies that could be planned and implemented locally.

This would require a better understanding of the technological solutions available and the possible use of the heat network over the next five years, Sir John added.

He said: “UK policy on heat decarbonisation needs to be reset. The keys to this are simplicity, location and funding. Low-carbon heat is an inherently local challenge, with decisions about technologies and infrastructure varying by neighborhood. It makes sense for councils to drive this process.

“At the same time, the national approach has become too complicated and needs to be streamlined. Again, the way to achieve this is to delegate decision-making to local governments.

Expertise of local authorities

Last July, the chairman of the influential climate change committee said local authorities had proven they had to play a key role in implementing and steering the decarbonisation of housing and offices in their regions. .

Lord Deben said at the time that the short-lived Green Homes Grant incentive program has shown that regional and local authorities, sufficiently supported by national governments, are extremely capable of driving net-zero heat schemes.

He cited the relative success of the Local Authority Delivery (LAD) program that was introduced alongside the Green Homes Grant as an example of the benefits of regional thinking on heat decarbonization. The LAD was designed to finance work to improve the energy efficiency of social housing.