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What is a Heat Network?

Heat networks, also known as communal and district heating schemes, are a lower carbon way to heat buildings. Instead of homes being heated by individual gas boilers, for heat networks there is one central energy source providing heating and hot water to each property via a network of insulated pipes. These systems aren’t just used for heat and hot water but can also incorporate a centralised source of chilled water which is distributed in order to provide cooling.

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Heat networks can use a flexible range of fuels to generate energy and can combine different sources. The most common energy source is currently traditional gas fired boilers, however lower carbon alternatives are increasingly being integrated into centralised energy systems such as heat pumps, biomass, and energy from waste.

What is the difference between communal heat networks and district heat networks?

Communal heat networks serve a single building containing multiple customers, such as a block of flats or offices. 

District heat networks serve multiple buildings, such as a housing estate or university campus.

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A greener future

Heat networks are a key element to the UK successfully achieving its carbon targets by 2050, with heat accounting for around 33% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Heat networks provide the flexibility to exploit large scale, renewable and recovered heat sources that cannot be accessed at an individual building level. While offering a low-carbon source of energy, heat networks also offer improved safety, supply reliability and energy security.

The Climate Change Committee estimates that heat networks need to provide 18% of the UK’s domestic heat by 2050, for the UK to meet its ambitious carbon targets. Heat networks currently account for only 2% of UK domestic heat demand, with the industry facing multiple challenges including high capital expenditure (CapEx), increasing operational expenditure (OpEx) and more demanding requirements for metering and billing.

UK Building Regulations have also changed in recent years, particularly with respect to permitted carbon emissions. In order to meet regulations, buildings now have to be built to very high standards of efficiency. These are some of the regulations that may apply to your home and will have determined that a heat network should be installed:

  • Building Regulations (Part L) 2013
  • Code for Sustainable Homes
  • Planning requirements
  • GLA – London Plan 2012
  • Other helpful guides include: CIBSE CP1 2020, Heat Trust Scheme Rules.

Metering and billing regulations have also begun to tighten - as of 25th October 2020, the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) requires all meters installed to be remotely readable. In addition, by 1st January 2027, all existing meters must be remotely readable, with data being provided to end consumers on at least a monthly basis.

How are heat networks more environmentally friendly?

Although, the same number of homes need to be heated, by generating the energy for the homes at a single centralised source rather than via multiple individual boilers the system is much more efficient as more useful energy is produced and less fuel is used, creating economies of scale.

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What is the responsibility of a heat supplier?

As standard, a heat supplier is responsible for the operation and maintenance of a heat network. This includes the procurement of incoming fuel, metering and billing of connected properties, and the upkeep of both plant room and property (including HIUs and heat meters) equipment. Depending on the structure of leases and ownership of heat assets, heat suppliers may also need to provision for long-term asset (replacement expenditure – RepEx).

It is also the responsibility of the heat supplier to remain in compliance with Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014 and select the right metering and billing platform for their heat network.

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