The beginning of March saw temperatures in the UK plummet, with snow falling heavily across much of the country, As a result, homes and businesses cranked up the heating and the demand for gas went through the roof. One North London gas supplier, Cadent, reported that on March 1st, hourly demand peaked at 20GW, which is around one and a half times more than the average for that time of the year.
This cold period saw gas demand reach its highest in eight years, which alerted the powers that be to the fact that we do not have the supplies necessary to meet this need.
We have now come out of the other side of that cold snap but the problem is not over. Britain must still face up to the fact that it is far too dependent on fossil fuels as a source of heat.
Approximately 85% of heating in the UK comes from natural gas. This can be compared to electricity generation, which comes from a mix of gas, coal and renewables. Recently, during the cold snap, wind was responsible for 30% of this power generation.
This comparison shows that the UK has taken great strides towards decarbonising electricity but still has a long way to go with regards to the heating sector. In 2015, domestic and industrial heating accounted for 32% of Britain’s emissions. But, Britain is going to need to find a way to curb these carbon levels if it wants to meet its emission targets.
Experts are in concurrence with the notion that decarbonising heat should be Britain’s top priority for its future energy policy. In 2008, the Climate Change Act came on the scene and demanded that the country cut greenhouse gases by 80% from 1990 to 2050. The UK is on track to meet some of its short-term emissions targets but looks unlikely to meet them in the long run.
To meet these targets climate change executives have stressed the importance of decarbonising heat from our buildings. The problem is that we are used to natural gas. It is what we all have installed in our homes already. Alternatives to natural gas are not very well known and could well cost more.
Experts have also criticised the government’s Clean Growth Strategy saying that while the targets laid out are promising, many of them lack detail. However, one government representative said that the government is exploring “low carbon heating technologies with the potential to support the scale of change needed to meet our 2050 targets”.
Another issue that is posing an obstacle to shifting away from gas is the fact there is no blanket solution to decarbonising heating. A range of options is currently on the table, including district heating systems. These heat networks comprise a network of hot water pipes that could supply a number of buildings from a central, low-carbon source.
In 2016, the government poured £320m into an investment programme, which could support up to 200 projects to renovate heating in towns and cities. However, the total cost of decarbonisation is going to be high and the government needs to be prepared for the necessity of pumping more money in to achieve this goal.