Mr Jamie Speirs, Imperial College London

The delivery of heat to end users is a strategically important part of any transition to a low carbon economy. Recent scenario modelling suggests that electricity will play a majority role in the delivery of heat and other energy services to end-users by 2050 (CCC 2008;DECC 2009;UKERC 2009). There are, however, significant issues associated with delivering a future energy system with such high utilization of electricity.

This paper examines the implications of what may be described as the “all-electric” future with regards to: (i) growth in build rates associated with increasing electricity generating capacity; (ii) problems in the management of power flows and the transmission and distribution network with respect to peak electricity demand, which will be significantly increased under all-electric assumptions; (iii) implications for power flows associated with intermittency given the high penetration of renewables (Poyry 2009); and (iv) consequences for end-users through the required modification of homes, including the installation of heat pump systems, under-floor heating and insulation (Boardman 2007;EST 2009). Several of these issues are already of critical concern in the development of the power sector, and it is widely recognised that current energy market arrangements are not well-suited to the changes foreseen.

The paper investigates the possible synergies achieved through an integrated mix of heat delivery. For comparison, a vision of the 2050 energy system with an increased role for Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and District Heat Networks (DHN) is developed, reducing the burden of heat delivery on the electricity system. By increasing the efficiency of electricity generation through CHP the build rate for new generating plant may be reduced. CHP and heat pump systems can be considered thermodynamically equivalent, given the ambient energy captured by the later. Issues of power management may also be mitigated. Use of thermal stores and DHNs reduces the need for instantaneous power increases, limiting the impacts of peak demand. The flexibility of thermal storage and heat networks can also provide mechanisms by which intermittent generation can be managed. Issues of disruption for end-users can also be reduced potentially, since networked heat can be connected to homes through traditional radiator systems.

The paper concludes that there are many ways in which increased diversity of heat delivery may facilitate the difficult move towards a decarbonised future. While the benefits of a decarbonised electricity system are compelling, many practical issues associated with delivering this system are not yet sufficiently understood. Efforts should be made, therefore, to keep open options which deliver synergistic benefits for both the delivery of energy to end-users, and the facilitation of the wider decarbonised energy system. The paper will explore briefly the implications of these messages for policy, and for the ongoing debate about energy market reform.

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