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Does the decision on nuclear spell the end for district heat networks?

Posted by on in Heat 2014
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So at last, we have a decision on nuclear.  There will be some that think this is excellent and others the contrary.  But what does it mean for district heating?  Does it confirm the view that as far as DECC is concerned the future for heating remains an all-electric one with a heat pump in every home?

Well, the problem with current forms of low carbon generation is that they are either inflexible or intermittent and the more we have, the greater the need for flexibility.  Today flexibility is mostly provided by coal and oil plant but with much of this gone by 2020, it will need to come from elsewhere.  We’ll still have our pumped storage and interconnectors and of course there’ll be plenty of CCGTs to prop up the system.  Then there is demand side participation which should have a major role to play. However, its commercialisation into a viable and an attractive option that offers value to customers has some way to go.  To make matters worse heat demand is very peaky with large variations throughout the year and within day.  This is in itself will increase the need for flexibility.

So what can district heating do?  Well firstly it offers huge potential for flexibility. Tanks the size of our old gasometers, a feature of most towns and cities until a few years ago, can store vast quantities of water very cheaply.  With heating provided by very large electric heat pumps, for example, heat load be can be rapidly adjusted to support the system as well as smoothing out variations in heat demand.  Thermal CHP plant can also provide flexibility by varying heat production thereby increasing or reducing electricity production.  And finally, in the future with a well- developed heat network serving a sizeable load, there is no reason why nuclear could not also provide heat as well as electricity, although I doubt it features prominently in EDF Energy’s plans at present!

So is nuclear the end for heat networks?  I don’t think so. It may actually help.


Robert Sansom is a Researcher at Imperial College London funded by UK Energy Research Centre.

Robert Sansom has nearly 30 years’ experience in the UK electricity industry.  This includes power station operations and maintenance, engineering consultancy, networks (transmission and distribution), energy strategy, power project development, energy procurement and risk management.  In November 2009 he left EDF Energy and commenced a PhD at Imperial College, London University, researching how the UK can decarbonise low grade heat for space and water heating.


  • Guest
    Rob Raine Friday, 08 November 2013

    Heat networks, as you say, can help provide flexibility in managing the future energy system. Also important is the way in which heat networks can help to enable the use of waste heat from industry, geothermal and solar thermal resources.

  • Guest
    Robert Sansom Friday, 08 November 2013

    Completely agree. I heard somewhere that in London there is enough wasted (I prefer to add the d) heat to meet all of London's heat needs.

  • Guest
    Claire Wych Tuesday, 12 November 2013

    The GLA's recent study - London's Zero Carbon Energy Resource found that total available heat for capture from all sources across London equates to around 50,000 GWh/yr which is equivalent to 76% of London’s total heat demand of 66,000 GWh/yr


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