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District Heating Networks for Decarbonising Social Housing Stock

District heating networks are not a new concept. In fact, they have been used in the UK since the 1960s. However, the rate at which they have been adopted in the UK is far lower when compared to the rest of the world. We are still largely falling behind Europe, where heat networks meet about 12% of the EU's heat demand.

The UK Government believes that district heating networks can reduce fuel bills by 30% and has made it clear that it wants to see a wider uptake of these networks in order to reduce CO2 emissions and help to meet our 2050 net-zero targets.

It is believed that heat networks should be used to deliver 20% of the UK’s heat by 2050. However, only 2% of the UK's heat is delivered by heat networks, so this will be no small task.

With fuel bills and lower carbon emissions at the forefront of everybody’s mind, housing providers need to consider different options to decrease both energy bills and the impact on our planet. So, it’s about time that district heating networks become an integral part in the renovation and construction of the UK’s housing stock.

More Sustainable Solutions

Moving away from fossil fuels is key to our country reducing carbon emissions and meeting net zero by 2050.

District heating networks could play an essential role in this. They allow homes to be connected to a reliable and efficient heat source, even if they are not on the gas network, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Examples of these are renewable technologies such as wind, solar and hydro, which all provide cleaner and more sustainable energy systems.

From this central heat source, hot water can then be distributed through an underground network of insulated pipes to several properties.

Heat networks also provide an excellent opportunity to make the most of the increasing popularity of low-energy heating solutions such as:
  • Radiant heating
  • Radiant panels
  • Underfloor heating
These heating solutions provide greater thermal comfort, while also running at a lower temperature than traditional convectional heating, such as radiators.

In addition to more well-known renewable technologies, the industry is also constantly finding new ways to provide energy for these networks. One of the recent innovations is harnessing waste heat from data centres, thermal power stations and industrial sites, and then putting it back into homes through a heating network.

A good example of this is that heat from the London Underground is currently being used to provide heat and hot water for homes and businesses in Islington.

Maximising Efficiency

Research by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has found that district heating networks can cut carbon emissions from new housing developments by up to 70% and create energy bill savings of at least 30% when replacing electric heaters with heating networks in tower blocks.

This means that heat networks are not only a good solution for the environment, but that the cost of delivering heat to residents can be as little as 7p/kWh compared to an equivalent figure of 10p/kWh for electric heating.

These are really substantial results when you consider the current energy crisis and the need to address climate change. It is clear that district heating networks are proving their value and showing that they can positively impact carbon emissions whilst also providing a more affordable and energy-efficient living environment for residents – something that would benefit us all as the cost of living rises exponentially.

Reaching the Full Potential

With the growing interest in district heating networks, it has become clear that there is a need for updated guidance and regulation of the sector to enable networks to deliver their full potential. To meet this need, the Government has proposed ‘heat network zoning’ where buildings in a specified zone will be given a timeframe to connect to a heat network and has appointed Ofgem as the new regulator for this practice.

In January 2021, CIBSE released its second edition of the Heat Networks: Code of Practice for the UK (CIP1) to improve the design quality, installation and operation of low-carbon heat networks in the UK.

The updated CPI (2020) also included enhanced minimum standards and further detail on insulation standards for primary pipework. It recommends reduced temperature flow for new schemes, which is pushing designers, specifiers and installers towards 4th and 5th-generation heat networks, both of which are well suited to flexible, pre-insulated polymer pipework.

Creating Lower Cost Solutions for the Long Term

In order to really tackle carbon emissions from social housing and decarbonise the UK’s housing stock, district heating networks should be considered as a key solution in the housing sector.

Ultimately residents will not only benefit from the efficient operation of a system, but they will also benefit from heating their homes at a lower cost, in comparison to using individual heating systems.

As the practice and legislation around heat networks continue to improve, more and more housebuilders and developers are realising the benefits of district heating networks for both themselves and the residents.

What Are the Benefits of District Heating Networks?

Not only do district heating networks impact sustainability credentials, but they also help:
  • Decrease carbon costs in the long term
  • Increase thermal comfort for residents
  • Improve indoor air quality
  • Decrease bills and costs
  • Create a more sustainable method of heating in the long term

Heat Networks in Practice

There have already been several successful district heating projects in the UK. In fact, Uponor recently supplied its energy-efficient Ecoflex VIP pre-insulated piping solutions to Finn Geotherm as part of a landmark renewable heating scheme in Felixstowe for Flagship Homes.

The scheme cut heating bills and carbon emissions for more than 100 houses, flats and bungalows. By installing six large-scale district heating schemes using pre-insulated piping, residents now benefit from a 70% reduction in both heating and overall energy use. The network also dramatically decreased carbon emissions in the community.

Find out more about how Uponor can help you with district heating networks by calling us today at 01923 927000 or by emailing