UK consumers connected to heat networks are likely to pay less on average for their energy while feeling just as satisfied with their heating service, according to government research published yesterday.
A survey carried out by independent researchers on behalf of the government between April and July this year garnered more than 5,000 responses from heat network users, after asking them about their satisfaction with their heating system, price and transparency of billing, and customer service.
The results suggested that while there was “significant variation” in the prices paid by heat network consumers, on average they were likely to pay less than non-heat network consumers.
It also found that while there are “issues affecting the sector that need addressing”, heat network consumers were just as satisfied overall with their heating systems as non-heat network consumers.
There are at present around 17,000 heat networks and district heating schemes in the UK, with some of the largest such networks in Sheffield, Nottingham, and at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.
The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that overall there are around 5,500 district scale and 11,500 communal scale networks, together providing 10TWh of energy per year.
They operate by taking heat from a central source – sometimes excess heat from an industrial facility – and delivering it to a number of buildings in the network. The approach is designed to boost energy efficiency, while also delivering emissions reduction and cost savings.
The number of customers using heat networks is expected to grow significantly to around 20 per cent of all households by 2030, as growing numbers of new developments look to make use of a technology that is already well established on parts of the continent.
However, there have been complaints from some early adopters over billing issues and difficulties controlling the heat in their properties – issues advocates of the technology insist can be overcome.
UK climate change and industry minister Claire Perry said heat networks were a key part of the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, but that strong consumer protections were needed to ensure customer confidence in the technology as the nascent market develops.
“As we set out in our Clean Growth Strategy, encouraging the uptake of heat networks is an important way to reduce carbon and cut heating bills for customers,” she said. “This survey of consumers provides an important evidence base as we seek to expand the use of heat networks from now to 2021.”
The Competition and Markets Authority also announced yesterday it is carrying out a market study into the heat networks sector, while the industry is also at present developing proposals for publication next year aimed at better protecting consumers and lowering risk for investors.
The survey results were welcomed by director of the Accociation for Decentralised Energy, Dr Tim Rotheray. “This report demonstrates that heat networks can alleviate fuel poverty at the same time as move to a low carbon energy system,” he said.