Economies of Scale vs the Learning Curve in the Heat Sector

Dr Gareth Davies, Poyry

Tackling heat is vital to delivering a low-carbon future, given that heat production is responsible for nearly half of UK’s final energy consumption and carbon emissions. One approach for decarbonising heat is through small-scale, on-site/building based technologies, with policy incentivising technologies like GSHP, ASHPs, biomass boilers, solar thermal and micro-CHP. Another is through the development of large scale, district heating networks (DHN), which offer improved energy efficiency and CO2 reductions, flexibility in utilising a range of heat sources and the potential to be a low cost solution. However, compared to conventional heating, stand-alone renewable heat technologies and DHNs cannot generally compete on cost, even though they offer substantial carbon savings. Consideration of carbon abatement costs between alternative forms of heat, shows that DHNs (large and medium scale) generally provide a better cost per tonne of carbon saved, than individual renewable heat technologies. It is also feasible to access waste heat at scale, but not within the current institutional and commercial framework, which results in: economic barriers (project risk and project cost); increased risk from competition and liberalisation; and inertia around the status quo for heat (compared to power).

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