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Could you soon be heating your home through a heat network?

Heat networks are set to play a larger role in how we heat our homes and businesses. But what are they and would you benefit from being on one? Our guest author Bindi Patel from the Heat Trust explains…

Heat networks – also known as district heating networks – enable a central heat source to supply heat through insulated pipes to customers’ homes as hot water or steam.

They are particularly suited in urban areas where heat demands are large and multiple buildings can be served by a single heat network.

At the very heart of local heat networks are the customers and communities heating their homes and businesses.

As a not-for-profit customer protection scheme, Heat Trust seeks to help drive up standards in the heat network sector.

We set rules on customer service so that heat network customers receive a service that is comparable to the rest of the energy market, including access to the Energy Ombudsman.

Turning up the heat

There is a desire to see the number of heat networks grow across the country.

The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy states that heat networks could supply between 17-24% of the country’s heat demand – up to 8 million customers could receive their heating and hot water from a heat network.

However, in contrast to the gas and electricity market, heat networks do not currently have a sector regulator.

In July 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its final report to a seven month market study into the heat network sector.

It concluded that while the majority of heat networks are operating well, without regulation there is no ability to assure customer protection.

Regulation required

Heat Trust supports and welcomes the CMA’s call for the heat network industry to be regulated and welcomes its recommendation that a future regulatory framework draws on the work that Heat Trust has started.

As new technologies develop, the UK is moving away from large centralised generation to more local forms of energy generation.

With the heat network market expected to grow, and given that heat networks are natural monopolies, it is right that we start the transition to regulation.

Customer protection

In an open letter to the industry, the CMA was clear that industry should take proactive steps to embed customer protection now while regulation is being developed.

At the Heat Trust, we believe that as the regulatory framework develops, all heat networks should be required to meet the standards we set as a minimum.

This should certainly be a requirement for projects in receipt of public funding, to demonstrate leadership in meeting customer protection standards while a future regulatory framework is developed.

Would you heat your home through a heat network? Do you support regulation of the industry – what parts of heat network should be regulated?

This is a guest article by Bindi Patel of the Heat Trust. All views expressed here are Bindi’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?

Comments
Member

In her introduction, Bindi provides links to two of the more recent Conversations about district heating. There are a couple of others that attracted more comments and might be of interest.

https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/district-heating-communal-heating-problems/

It would take a lot to convince me that district heating would provide the versatility of my present system.

Member
Member

Thanks for adding these in, wavechange 🙂

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
24 August 2018

The two Conversations highlighted by Wavechange have 175 and 115 comments. The CMA letter highlights the ridiculously uncontrolled nature of this in the housing market. I am not convinced that there is not more that can be done.

My comment last year of avoiding such schemes as a purchaser still applies. At least as a renter you can move elsewhere. Without having the pleasure of reading a contract I am nervous that if there is a large number of people making minimal use of the system all the operating parameters will be out of whack.

I do know from a source that at least one scheme had an unfound leak in the supply pipes which quite likely are buried deep. That in itself will be something all will be paying for.

Member

District heating is standard in cities in the former Soviet Union, where the system has to be shut down for a week or two every summer to carry out maintenance, during which time residents often go on holiday.

There should be legislation in the UK requiring all new buildings containing more than a certain number of flats to have centralised heating and hot water. It’s absurdly inefficient for each flat in a building to have a separate boiler.

Member

That would also be more economical by enabling gas to be safely used [where available] for the heating system instead of residents having to use more expensive electricity. There is a lot of wasted hot water in apartment buildings as each has its own hot tank whereas a central supply could be designed to provide enough for all needs much more efficiently according to demand. Hotels are a good example of how this can be achieved.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
24 August 2018

The wonders of a planned economy by the state. Then the democratic view that people have choices which often are probably financially not the best but do provide flexibility.

I might be agnostic as to the benefits results but currently it looks like a very bad deal for purchasers. I am aware that there are considerable heat loss differences depending where a particular flat is within a block. There is also the case of solar gain that might be considerable for some and negligible for others which might need to be fleshed out when telling people what their expected costs will be.

I would not be surprised to see a 50% difference in heating costs quite easily between nominally identical flats with similar usage profiles and same temperatures.

Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic about flats being designed for looks rather than practical matters – including long term maintenance.

Member
Vasilena says:
9 November 2018

That’s how we roll 😄 Warm all year round, efficient and not so expensive. I never knew heating in the UK doesn’t follow the same scheme, but the best thing about the Solviet Union are never ending showers

Member

Use electric heating rather than gas! Gas is expensive, unsafe and causes fumes!

Member

Not so, Larry. Where mains gas is available the cost per unit of thermal output is considerably lower than the equivalent electricity charge. There is a slight advantage if electricity can be used overnight on an economy tariff but room heating is not usually required at those times. Electric storage heaters are inflexible in output and control, and ‘dumb’ electric convector radiators are very expensive to run; modern ones have efficient control features and can operate in communication with each other to maintain an even temperature but the fundamental costs remain relatively high and are rarely installed where mains gas is available.

If a gas heating installation is unsafe or giving off fumes there is something wrong with it and it should be serviced as a matter of urgency.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
26 August 2018

In the context of district heating schemes the gas versus electricity argument changes because of course you have to take into account the heat losses and complexity of the piping. This complexity means high capital costs from inception and for eventual replacement let alone potential breakdowns.*

I think it probably is possible that electricity could be a viable competitor particularly if electricty generation costs reduce. For the moment ignore HMG’s nuclear aberration and overall the costs of production are falling.

* I am aware that there are almost certainly district heating schemes that work. The experience in Eastern Bloc countries makes me wonder if the capital costs etc were borne by the state rather than the actual flat dwellers.

Subsequent delving through the excellent Wikipedia article leads to this article with an excellent executive summary of the UK rush to District heating.
maxfordham.com/assets/media/images/publications/Widesread%20use%20of%20district%20heating/District_Heating__CHP_Study.pdf

” We have at one recent example from a housing association who have found that a community heating system is more costly to install and uses more energy than a conventional system that they would put in. Over a 25 year period the additional costs would be £40,000 to £52,000 per dwelling. On the basis that it costs considerably more to install and run and uses more energy, we cannot see any justification for expanding the use of this technology. “

Member
DerekP says:
26 August 2018

Folks, please don’t feed the trolls!

Member

True but not everyone has mains gas, we only have an LPG tank which is expensive to fill up so only use it for the hob and water heating, only in deep winter do we use the gas heating

Member

I did make it clear that I was comparing electricity with mains gas where it is available. As is well known, other fuel sources like LPG and oil are more expensive. This is usually reflected in the price or rent of the property.

Member

I know nothing about district heating, but how are users charged fairly for what heating they use?

Member
Vasilena says:
9 November 2018

We have machines installed on the radiators which measure how much heat they are giving off. You can control each one individually when you don’t use the room. The also have thermostats to keep a normal temperature in the room.

Member

Hi everyone. I’m going to get in contact with Bindi, our guest author here. Are there any questions anyone would like her to answer?

Member

I don’t have any specific questions because I have no knowledge of district heating and do not know anyone who uses it. It would be great if all Convo authors took part in the discussion and hopefully give more information where appropriate.