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?

Upskilling for net zero – the task facing domestic heat

Heat decarbonisation is one of the biggest challenges ahead of the UK as it strives to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The country urgently needs a trained workforce to install low carbon technologies. Jennifer Johnson asks whether offshore wind offers a blueprint for scaling things up.

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Heat source beneath UK streets

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

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

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

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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Events and training

Heat and Decentralised Energy 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

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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Electrification for Net Zero

A number of countries are making commitments to move to a net zero emissions economy. There are many ways to help bring emissions to net-zero which will be discussed during this conference. 

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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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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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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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Guidance on human factors safety critical task analysis

This publication is free to download, please log in to see the download option.The first edition of Guidance on human factors safety critical task analysis filled a gap by enabling companies and human factors (HF) non-specialists to conduct quality HF analyses in a structured and consistent format. ...

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HM 93. A guide to manual sampling of hydrocarbon liquids

Anyone involved in oil production, transportation, refining, storage or distribution will be aware of the importance of sampling and testing to ensure that crude oil and products meet the required specifications. This guide provides practical advice on sampling of hydrocarbon liquids across a wide r...

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