According to a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK has no hope of reaching its binding 2050 target for CO2 reductions without a serious shake-up of the way homes are heated. The publication, Heat: degrees of comfort, finds that even with the most modern gas boilers and state-of-the art insulation, we cannot continue to heat so many homes by natural gas and still achieve an 80 percent cut in emissions as laid down in the Climate Change Act 2008.

Looking into new heat generating technologies the Academy considers the challenges of matching the UK’s demand for domestic heating with the binding requirement to reduce our overall carbon emissions. The report outlines that combined heat and power as well as incentive schemes, such as the renewable heat incentive (RHI), will be integral as drivers towards this goal.

However, while the report recognises what needs to be done in order to begin cutting the UK’s carbon emissions, it also points out that many sources of renewable energy are, by their nature, difficult or impossible to schedule. Storage, whether of natural gas, biomass, large-scale thermal storage, or an intermediate vector such as hydrogen, electricity or heat, will be essential, the Academy claims.

“Managing the UK's energy systems in a way that reduces CO2, avoids expensive imports, ensures energy security, does not exacerbate fuel poverty, supports job creation and works with, rather than against, the competitive market will be hugely difficult,” said Professor Roger Kemp FREng of Lancaster University, who chairs the Academy's Heat working group. “Government is only just coming to terms with the complexity of these multiple demands on policy.”

The report also considers that while new houses in the UK are built with energy efficiency in mind, if we are to meet the 2050 targets, major improvements will have to be made to the existing housing stock. However, an overhaul of this kind will be both disruptive to householders and expensive and therefore, other than basic insulation and draft-proofing, households are likely to need a financial incentive to persuade them to act.

Government’s introduction of the Green Deal and RHI scheme are both expected to go some way towards reaching the goals outlined by the report as both policies seek to improve the UK’s residential energy efficiency; reducing carbon emissions as a result. EPC requirements are also anticipated to be linked to eligibility for solar photovoltaics installations from April 1 this year.