New research identifies district heating and heatpumps as the most cost effective technologies to decarbonise heating

New research published by University College London's Energy Institute (UCL) shows that hydrogen-dominated heating would cost consumers 73% more compared to pathways relying on district heating and heat-pumps.

With over a third of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonising heat is key to achieving the Government's net-zero target by 2050. UCL's research paper "Meeting UK heat demands in zero emission renewable energy systems using storage and interconnectors" simulates high renewable zero-emission energy system architectures with heat supply based on the major options of district heating, heat pumps, and electrolytic hydrogen boilers.

The research adopts a novel whole system modelling approach that combines meteorology-driven hourly simulations of demand and supply with storage, flexible technologies, and interconnections on the European scale. The results show that systems with heat supply based on consumer or district heat pumps require about four times less electricity per unit of heat, with a heat cost about half of that from electrolytic hydrogen boilers.

Furthermore, comparison was made of trade-offs between investment in different infrastructure components which found that increasing renewable capacity by 33%, or interconnections by 200%, can lower system storage capacity by up to 50%.

To conclude, the research findings indicate that a zero-emission energy system for the UK based on renewables would need efficient technologies, such as heat pumps, as well as system stores, to resiliently manage emissions during rare meteorology periods. Reducing emissions from heat is a high priority since aviation and some industrial processes are more challenging to decarbonise.

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