Heat is the largest energy end-use with over 50% of global final energy consumption

Heat is a form of energy that determines the temperature, volume, and state (gas, liquid or solid) of a material. It can be transferred from one object to another, to raise or lower temperatures, and is most commonly transferred from warmer to cooler matter. It can be produced by converting other forms of energy, such as chemical energy stored in fuels or electrical energy, in boilers, furnaces, pumps or electric heaters. Heat energy allows us to warm and cool our buildings, provides us with hot water and the ability to cook our food. Heat is also required for industrial production of steel, chemicals, food and drink.

Heat accounts for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions; the decarbonisation of heat is thus vital to reach emission reduction targets. With various means of production and range of uses embedded in all aspects of our lives, heat constitutes a complicated system that is difficult to lead down a single desired path. As such, fewer countries currently have policies for renewable heat than have policies for renewable electricity and transport.

Unlike electricity which can be decarbonised solely by feeding renewable energy into the grid, decarbonising heat also depends on changes at the point of use and may require millions of homes to replace their gas or oil-fired boilers with a new technology. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, since the fuel mix and the means of delivery to the end-user vary greatly from one country to another. Thus, a multiple-technology approach towards low carbon heat is most likely required, resulting in a mix of pathways. These could include electrification using heat pumps, using sustainably-produced hydrogen as a fuel, and setting up district heating networks which can incorporate a range of low-carbon heat sources as well as waste heat from various industrial and urban processes. Heat energy efficiency is also key for emissions reductions and advancements can be made in thermal performance of buildings (e.g. insulation) and the efficiency of heating systems. Wider deployment of combined heat and power (CHP), as it produces electricity and useful heat at the same time, can also help to improve the efficiency of the wider energy system. However, public acceptance, high upfront capital costs, and additional infrastructure and storage requirements pose significant challenges to implementing such transformations of the heat system.

Read our Energy Insights on heat.

Find out energy professionals’ expectations for the future sources of heat in the UK.

Learn more about district heating or combined heat and power by browsing our online knowledge resources.

What's new?

District heating and heat pump network for Dundee

The Regional Performance Centre Dundee, a hub that provides the Dundee, Scotland community with sporting facilities, now also marks the beginning of a district heating development using ground source heat pumps (GSHP) for the area.Dundee City Council selected polymer plumbing specialist REHAU to sup...

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Smart and Flexible Electric Heat

Energy Futures Lab is one of six Global Institutes at Imperial College London. The institute wasestablished to address global energy challenges by identifying and leading new opportunitiesto serve industry, government and society at large through high quality research, evidence andadvocacy for posit...

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How we heat our homes must change

Decarbonisation of heating for buildings will no doubt make use of several different low-carbon technologies. Here, Mitsubishi Electric’s Max Halliwell makes the case for air source heat pumps.

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Cooking up a storm? What will it take to decarbonise UK’s heat for low-carbon cooking

With the lockdown in place and most restaurants closed for business, people have been spending much more time in their kitchens preparing home-cooked meals. Estimates show that there will be 503 million more (+38%) in-home meals eaten per week during the lockdown period, with the average household s...

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Events and training

EI LIVE | Level 3: Advanced Energy Manager

This 10-day virtual blended course is an advanced qualification aiming to support experienced energy managers to further advance their careers by gaining the skills and knowledge required to function successfully at a senior level and be able to manage energy across a wide range of business areas, a...

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EI LIVE Free Webinar | Powering Net Zero

A free webinar, held ahead of the 2021 conference, to discuss the latest strategies needed to reach net zero.8 October 2020: 9:00 - 10:40 BSTEI Knowledge Partner:

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IP 618: Determination of cold filter blocking tendency

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EI Research report: Investigation into the minimum auto-ignition temperature of fuels in open-air conditions

This study was conducted in order to evaluate the AITs of typical UK fuels in order to validate measurement expectations for these fuels, and thus to allow considerations on whether current EI guidelines needed revision.This report covers three phases of work carried out between August 2016 and June...

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Battery storage guidance note 2: Battery energy storage system fire planning and response

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