• A POSTnote on heat networks will explore to what extent they could replace conventional heating systems, such as boilers, within individual homes.
  • It will outline how heat networks work, how they could contribute to decarbonisation, and current regulation.
  • In production: To contribute expertise, literature or an external reviewer please email Jack Miller

Heat networks (or district heating systems) provide consumers with heat by piping hot water from a central source using well-insulated pipes. They differ from conventional UK central heating systems in that they cover a larger physical area, such as a housing development or industrial site, rather than using boilers within individual homes. Heat networks are generally perceived to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods of providing heat to a local area. Heat in the networks is often produced using efficient combined heat and power (CHP) systems and renewable fuel. In addition, they have been highlighted as a particularly effective method of distributing waste heat from disused mines or geothermal heat. 

The Committee on Climate Change has suggested that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its emissions targets cost effectively, up from 2% today. While there is a long history of heat networks in use internationally, they are not widely used in the UK, primarily because of the extensive existing gas network. UK heat networks tend to be situated in ageing housing developments, and issues have been widely reported concerning their reliability, a lack of ability to control heating levels and poor value for money for end users.  

This POSTnote would outline how heat networks operate, the sources that they use to provide heating and how these could contribute to decarbonisation. It would focus particularly on new ways in which they can use waste heat. The note would further evaluate the potential for heat networks to contribute towards decarbonisation, outlining barriers to deployment, and the current state of regulation.