Direct use of fossil fuels is the main source of space heating in the UK and this drives a major part of national greenhouse gas emissions. Climate stabilisation therefore implies a systemic change in approaches to space heating, involving some combination of radical efficiency improvement and low carbon fuels. The challenge in this area for the UK is made particularly difficult because of the combination of the legal commitment to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, an old building stock and a very high penetration of natural gas as a heating fuel.
This paper presents new quantified scenarios for residential energy use in the UK to 2050. These address both factors that are exogenous to the energy system, such as population, but also some systemically different approaches to delivering residential heat.
With minimal policy intervention the UK will remain locked into a gas system, but there is a range of scenarios in which this is avoided. Heat pumps powered by low carbon electricity are currently UK policy makers’ preferred option, but complete reliance on this as a solution raises a number of problems. Very high levels of electrification imply the disuse of much of the gas infrastructure, as well as a major change in heating installer products, supply chains and practices. The performance and acceptability of heat pumps in a wide range of UK homes remains unproven. Perhaps, most importantly, meeting all peak heating demands with heat pumps would need approximately 40 GW of additional electricity generation capacity, much of it low carbon, at an investment cost of perhaps £50 billion.