The heat is on: The Smart Systems and Heat Programme

The heat is on: The Smart Systems and Heat Programme All picture copyright of the ETI

24 May 2016

Grant Bourhill, director, smart systems and heat, Energy Systems Catapult

Channel: Innovation, technology & operations, Research and Development

There is no one single technology solution to decarbonise domestic heat, so the real challenge is integrating existing and new approaches in a way that delivers consumer needs within a viable commercial framework. If this challenge wasn’t taxing enough, it is exacerbated by the fact that the mix of solutions will also look different in every geographical area, as it will be dependent on local resources and preferences.

The approach being taken by the SSH programme is to first develop and demonstrate the tools required to focus local area energy strategy and infrastructure deployment to build consensus amongst local stakeholders, such as Local Authorities and Network Operators. Secondly, the programme seeks to demonstrate and evaluate new domestic energy services that meet the requirements of residents.

New domestic solutions will inevitably need to improve upon present consumer comfort and experience, whilst coping with massive seasonal and daily heat demand variations – rising from as low as 50GW in summer and peaking at 300GW in winter.

Ensuring long term success

The foundations of any long-term success in decarbonising heat will require the provision of improved products and services based on understanding how people use heat in their homes.
Unsurprisingly, the work has shown that there are a large number of factors affecting domestic behaviour and household energy use. Consequently, there is a need to develop flexible solutions that cater for a range of requirements, for example giving people better control of what they spend on heating.

The ETI’s Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME), a national energy system design and planning capability, illustrates the preferences and trade-offs around the attainment of climate change mitigation objectives. Figure 1 shows potential space and water heat delivery in 2050, within the context of a least cost transition.

This depicts the displacement of natural gas use for domestic heating, with a growing dependence on low carbon heat distributed by local heat networks, alongside individual electric heat sources. Other solutions include low carbon gas and the retention of some natural gas for use in peak demand periods. The challenge is to identify the solutions that most effectively meet the particular needs and characteristics of individual local areas. 

Developing local area strategies

To enable a cost effective low-carbon transition, more advanced local area energy planning is needed to identify the right technologies in the right place, at the right time. These “right” solutions will be influenced by a number of variable factors, including local resources, political support and leadership, consumer and community preferences, technological innovation and cost.

The ETI has, in partnership with local authorities, created a software modelling tool, (Energy Path Networks), to help develop local area energy strategies. Energy Path Networks, and the capability of the ESC team, enables the gathering and analysis of a wide range of data to create a local representation of all energy demand and supply for a local area.

The tool maps the impact of future growth on local energy systems and develops pathways for a cost effective, local, low carbon energy transition. These pathways reflect the unique priorities of individual local authorities and work collaboratively with electricity, gas and heat network operators on which energy options are most appropriate for a local area, and in what order they should be prioritised.


The ESC is currently working on the development of local strategies with Newcastle City Council, Bridgend County Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

There are many known technologies and new domestic services which have great potential, but it is not yet clear which will work at scale so different approaches need to be tested.

As the ESC forges onward with demonstration projects under the SSH programme, the dynamics of applications of increasing scale in a variety of geographies will become clearer.

As this happens we will have increasing power to evaluate and refine the many human, technical and commercial features to prepare for the 50 times increase in deployment rate required, ultimately enabling the affordable transition to low-carbon homes.  Grant Bourhill, director, smart systems and heat, Energy Systems Catapult


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The Energy Technology Institute (ETI) says consumers could be ready to move to low-carbon heat, but only if industry rethinks the consumer proposition.

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The capital costs of UK heat networks could be reduced by 30-40%, according to a report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

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Ian Manders - UK energy policy advisor, Danish Embassy London, makes the case for appropriate consideration of social housing in UK government funding of efficient heat networks.