How can we get further up the road to decarbonising the UK, and what can we learn from other countries?
When the North Sea gas was found by accident at a water well in the German city of Hamburg in 1911, it is doubtful they knew that the discovery would be the toast of British energy companies in years to come.
North Sea gas, extracted from the many oilfields that have been discovered in the aquatic territory over the years, has become the staple energy supply by which UK homes are heated, which is the purpose of 50% of the energy we use, the other 50% being apportioned to electricity (30%) and transport (20%).
As we consider the situation in 2016, that early discovery may have turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing in the long term, as decarbonising the UK becomes more of a priority. The government has ring fenced a cool £320 million in funding for the installation of district heating systems which will mean that far less heat is wasted, and far more is generated from low carbon technologies such as geo thermal or large scale heat pumps.
Waste not, want not...
Waste seems to be the major issue here, as we consider the best way of decarbonising the UK for the benefit of future generations. Incredibly, the heat we waste is equal to or above the amount we use each year. So all we need to do is move the heat from where it is being wasted to where it is used - simple, right?
It might be a large project, but at least we have some very credible models to learn from when asking the question - how should it be done? Scandinavia are a lot further ahead than the UK in this regard, and this is in no small part due to the oil crisis of the 1970s, which prompted the region to look seriously at more efficient systems for heating their populations.
In Denmark, it's normal for whole communities to be heated by using low carbon technology such as energy from waste or biomass - with far less waste than the multiple individual boilers it takes to do the job in many British towns and cities. Large Swedish cities, such as Malmo and Stockholm, have reached the point of almost completely decarbonised heat, with over 90% of their heat being delivered by heat networks superior in their efficiency and delivering low or zero carbon heat.
If they can do it, why can't we?
The answer is that we can, but like many forward thinking initiatives that are related to our everyday living costs, decarbonising the UK needs to make financial sense for the consumer.
There are the means to deliver cost effective heat, and even save consumers money through heat networks, and this is a vital element. Once the financial, as well as environmental benefits, can be sold to the UK consumer, we can encourage a ground swell of public support that has the power to convince more communities to change their heat supply.
- Wasted heat is a huge obstacle to decarbonising the UK, but solving the problem could be the key to success.
- Scandinavia is a world leading region in decarbonisation, and countries such as Denmark and Sweden are examples of how the heat we use in our homes can be supplied in a far more efficient manner.
- The UK government has already upped the funding for decarbonisation initiatives, but a wave of public support is needed in order for communities across the countries to feel the financial and environmental benefits.