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?

Solar heat for communities and industry

European authorities are increasingly recognising the role that solar thermal collectors can play in decarbonising the tricky domestic and industrial heating segments, writes Irene di Padua of Solar Heat Europe.

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Fifth generation heat pumps for district heating

Rather than using combustion, heat pumps transfer heat from one place to another. Here, Edward Thompson suggests that the latest heat pump designs can take the place of more conventional energy generators within the energy centres of district heating schemes.

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World-first scheme is launched using waste heat from the Tube to warm homes, two leisure centres and a school in Islington

Waste heat from the London Underground network is now capable of providing heating and hot water to more than 1,350 homes, a school and two leisure centres in Islington thanks to a pioneering energy centre opened in March.The revolutionary Bunhill 2 Energy Centre – the first of its kind in the world...

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E.ON to build deep heat power plants in Sweden

Utility firm E.ON has announced plans for a pilot project to construct a geothermal deep heat power plant in Malmö, Sweden in partnership with Nordic renewable developer St1 and the Swedish Energy Agency. The €5.4mn scheme will feed heat at temperatures up to 160°C, captured through boreholes d...

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Waste heat from the Tube warms homes in Islington

Waste heat from the London Underground network is now capable of providing heating and hot water to more than 1,350 homes, a school and two leisure centres in Islington thanks to the new Bunhill 2 Energy Centre. The centre uses state-of-the-art technology on the site of a disused City Road Unde...

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Events and training

Energy Efficiency: The Road to Net Zero

Discover the latest approaches and strategies in energy efficiency that can help the UK reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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Level 3: Advanced Energy Manager

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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Powering Net Zero

The Energy Institute’s new conference, Powering Net Zero, is designed to discuss ways in which clean electricity and electrification will be essential in reducing emissions globally to net zero.

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Middle East Sustainability Forum

This is part of Middle East HSE and Sustainability Week - for the HSE Forum please click here. Sustainability: unmasking a new global landscape "Rather than compounding the [COVID-19] tragedy by allowing it to hinder clean energy transitions, we need to seize the opportunity to help accelerate the...

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Technical guidance publications

IP 618: Determination of cold filter blocking tendency

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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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

This publication is free to download. Please log in to see the download option.This publication provides guidance on how to respond to BESS fires. It represents the 'current state' of knowledge (in 2019), but also identifies gaps in knowledge. The guidance covers primarily non-domestic battery insta...

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Code of safe practice for contractors and retailers managing contractors working on filling stations

This publication is intended for all contractors, subcontractors and self-employed persons who are required to carry out work on a filling station, and for retailers who are required to manage contractors whilst on their premises. It focuses on safety and good practice procedures whilst referencing ...

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Guidelines for the management of safety critical elements

The purpose of this technical publication is to provide industry guidance for the management of safety critical elements (SCEs) throughout the life cycle of a facility from conceptual design, through the operate phase, to changes such as life extension and decommissioning. An SCE is any part of a fa...

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