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?

How to decarbonise heat for UK homes

13-11-2020
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has launched an inquiry examining the path to decarbonising heating in homes. The Committee will examine the government’s upcoming buildings and heat strategy and investigate the policies, priorities and timelines needed to decarbonise he...

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Decarbonising heat – planning nationally to deliver locally

1-11-2020
What’s missing in the drive to decarbonise UK heating are two organisations to coordinate local planning. So writes Professor Martin Freer from the University of Birmingham, which is making a bid to be involved.

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How heat networks can contribute to decarbonisation

1-11-2020
As we search for ways to build back a greener and more resilient society, this is the time to embrace solutions designed to proactively mitigate the next crisis – such as urban district heating schemes. Ken Hunnisett, from Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management, writes on funding for such ...

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District heating and heat pump network for Dundee

6-08-2020
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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Events and training

Level 3: Advanced Energy Manager

27-09-2021
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

6-10-2021
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.Registration closes at 17:00 BST on 5 October 2021.

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Technical guidance publications

Guidelines for in-service management of passive fire protection coating systems

2021
This document provides guidance on in-service management of passive fire protection coatings that have been applied to components such as fire barriers, key structural elements and items of process equipment to provide a predetermined level of protection from a given fire and/or explosion event.Guid...

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HM 79. Shore tank handbook. Tank design and ancilliary equipment relating to measurement and sampling of hydrocarbon liquids in shore tanks

2021
This document identifies the standards and considers alternative designs and equipment used in onshore storage tanks for petroleum liquids, specifically concerning satisfying measurement and sampling requirements. Other issues such as foundation stability, mechanical design, coating and corrosion pr...

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Guidance on managing obsolescence and upgrading industrial automation and control systems (IACS)

2021
This publication provides information and guidance on the factors that should be considered in the successful management of obsolescence of an IACS, by providing a practical approach and suggested courses of action. Each and every IACS is different as a result of its unique use, and varies depending...

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EI 1545 Recommended practice for the defuelling of aircraft

2021
EI 1545 provides guidance on the requirements, risks and precautions necessary to conduct the defuelling of an aircraft into a vehicle tank (with a focus on the use of either a refuelling vehicle with the necessary equipment controls or a purpose-built vehicle for defuelling) or, in certain cases, a...

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Guidance on fire, combustible gas and toxic gas detection system development

2020
The purpose of Guidance on fire, combustible gas and toxic gas detection system development is intended to provide guidance on the development and maintenance of an effective and fit-for-purpose fire and gas detection system. The guidance is aimed to provide a consistent approach, applicable for bot...

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