Heat is still on the back burner

Back in 2000, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s landmark report on climate change urged the government to develop a "comprehensive strategy" for the supply and use of heat (ENDS Report 305, pp 19-22 ).

The government should learn from the efficient and low-carbon supply of heat in Scandinavia, it said, and promote combined heat and power (CHP) plants and district heating networks.

The commission’s calls have often been repeated by environmental NGOs, industry and even government bodies.

Yet as our back page shows, little has been done. The capacity of CHP plants stalled at around 5.4 gigawatts of electricity in 2004. Only 559,000 UK homes - 1.9% - are connected to district heating networks.

At the tail end of last year, the International Energy Agency rated the UK’s CHP policies as 2.5 out of 5, somewhere between "insufficient to influence market development" and only likely to produce modest growth.

This huge policy gap should have been filled this month by the launch of the government’s heat and energy strategy (see p 42-43 ).

The government appeared mightily pleased with the document. The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s entire ministerial team attended the launch, as did Hazel Blears and Margaret Beckett - big hitters at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The document has been rightly praised for its energy saving plans, which could give seven million homes an energy efficiency makeover by 2020.

But it does little to promote CHP or district heating, leading to howls of complaint and a rare alliance of environmental groups and energy firms (see p 4 ). All are calling for a simple tax change to promote CHP, but DECC’s response has been to pass the buck to the Treasury. We are left to hope the matter will be addressed by the final strategy, or better, in the next Budget.

However, if the government was really serious about decarbonising the UK’s heat supply, the strategy would be floating stronger policies such as a requirement for all new power stations to make use of the heat they produce.

This is not happening. In February, the government gave RWE Npower permission to build a 2GW gas-fired power station in Pembroke - far from any potential heat user (p 20 ). And the plant will literally land Milford Haven’s wildlife in hot water.

It also announced it would be developing policies to make the UK a "world leader" in anaerobic digestion technology (p 18 ). It wants over 1,000 plants built by 2020. But it has not said how many of those will use the biogas they produce for heat as well as electricity.

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