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Heat is the largest energy end-use with over 50% of global 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 they do 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?

Heat source beneath UK streets

29-11-2019
Natural water in the ground below us could be used as a low carbon heat source in many UK towns and cities, says new research from the British Geological Survey (BGS). The public research body is now calling for more research to understand how geothermal technologies could be scaled up across the UK...

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Ground source heat pumps for Croydon Council

14-11-2019
Croydon Council has begun a pilot scheme with Kensa Contracting to install a ground source heat pump system at the councilowned 10-storey housing block in New Addington. The installation aims to cut carbon emissions, help improve air quality and save up to £300 per home per year on more than 40...

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Energy Insight: Decarbonisation of heat part 2 - advanced economies

6-11-2019
Nations around the world face a huge challenge in decarbonising heating and cooling systems. According to the IEA, heat is the largest energy end-use, responsible for around 50% of global energy consumption. In 2017, just 10% of this heat generation was from renewable sources, mainly bioenergy.As di...

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Why the UK needs a consumer-centric approach to low carbon heat

1-11-2019
The scale and complexity of the transition to decarbonise domestic heat requires an immediate start if the UK is to meet its emissions targets. Jonathan Wills explains why consumers have a significant role to play in determining how this transition takes place.

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Hot rocks power and heat on the way for Eden Project

26-10-2019
Funding has been secured to drill the first well for a pioneering geothermal heat and power project to be built at Cornwall’s Eden Project. Project partners said that the £17mn funding will enable them to start drilling on Eden’s site next summer. The money has been secured from a mixture of pu...

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Events and training

Energy Policy Debate: UK pathways to decarbonising heat

10-12-2019
In order to meet the UK’s net zero emissions target by 2050, every sector of the economy must be decarbonised. We have made strong progress in decarbonising power generation, thanks to improvements in efficiency, switching from coal to natural gas, and an increase in the share of renewabl...

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Heat and Decentralised Energy 2020

25-03-2020
When the smart energy transition is changing your world now, how do you plan for the future?

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Level 3: Advanced Energy Manager

28-09-2020
This 10-day 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, activities and pa...

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Technical guidance publications

IP 618: Determination of cold filter blocking tendency

2020
This standard specifies a method for the determination of the cold filter blocking tendency (CFBT) and cold filterability of middle distillate fuel oils containing biodiesel from 0 % to 20 %, at temperatures between ambient and -5 °C where the end use demands an exceptional degree of cleanliness...

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Guidance on the management and maintenance of the integrity of structures, equipment and systems taken out of service on either a temporary or permanent basis in the upstream oil and gas industry

2019
This publication presents good practice guidelines for the effective management and maintenance of the integrity of equipment and systems taken out of service and their related structures, on either a temporary or permanent basis, in the upstream oil and gas industry. It defines the issue and the re...

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Guidelines for the assessment of corrosion threats in risk-based inspection

2019
This document provides a tool to help engineers practically develop corrosion risk assessment procedures within their organisations and hence more accurate inspection regimes, providing an additional required tool to help engineers in the key areas of corrosion resistant alloys and risk-based inspec...

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Guidance on selection, installation and management of fire resistant sealant materials and system components for secondary containment construction/expansion joints

2019
This technical publication has been prepared under the technical direction of the EI's Containment Systems Working Group (CSWG) adopting the findings from the Research report: Fire resistance testing of sealant materials and system components for secondary containment construction/expansion joints. ...

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Guidance for corrosion management in oil and gas production and processing

2019
*This publication has a large file size, please allow extra time for the PDF to download*This second edition of the EI's Guidance on corrosion management in oil and gas production and processing provides general principles and essential engineering guidance and requirements for improving corrosion m...

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