Westminster Forum

Decarbonising UK Heat and Heat Networks


The first step in decarbonising Heat and Heat Networks is to Stop Burning Things!

Burning anything involves reactions that:

  • absorb oxygen
  • release heat
  • and release noxious gases.

If you burn carbon compounds, (coal, oil, gas or biomass) you will release CO2 and contribute to global warming. You will also release other gases, including Nitrogen Oxides if you are burning anything in the air, because 80% of the air we breathe is composed of Nitrogen.

NOx are a serious risk to the health of human beings – particularly for respiratory diseases in the old and the young.

22% of the NOx in the atmosphere in London is attributed to burning fossil gas (or “natural gas” as the oil industry likes to term it. Chemists call it "methane").

The oil industry likes to suggest that a clean alternative to burning natural gas would be to burn Hydrogen gas – H2. They like to say that:
“burning Hydrogen in Oxygen yields only water” – which sounds great, but is only true if Hydrogen is burnt in pure Oxygen.
H2 + O2 = H2O

But, burning Hydrogen in air (which is 80% Nitrogen) yields six times more NOx than burning “natural gas” – because there are fewer carbon molecules around - for the oxygen molecules to combine with.

So, for health reasons, it would be a huge mistake to pump Hydrogen through the gas grid and burn it in our homes.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a well proven carbon-free alternative for heating: it is called heat transfer and we can employ heat pumps to provide it.

Heat pumps can be used to heat any building:

  • Old or new
  • Large or small
  • On grid – or Off gas grid
  • Well-insulated or poorly-insulated.

Good insulation, of course, is a very good idea – but it is NOT essential.

It is true that it will cost less to heat a well-insulated building – the same is true with a gas boiler.

A heat pump, like a gas boiler, is more efficient when distributing heat at a lower temperature (say 50°C) rather than 70°C.

(If a gas boiler is set to deliver a flow temp of 70°C it will not be able to recover heat by condensing exhaust gases on the return flow pipe: It will be inefficient!).

If a poorly-insulated building needs a 60°C or 70°C flow temp, then ICAX can supply a high temp heat pump to deliver 70°C or even 80°C (as a gas boiler does).

The emerging technology which allows us to decarbonise old building stock

High Temperature Ground Source Heat Pump

So a high temperature heat pump is the emerging technology which allows us to decarbonise old building stock.

This is true for old buildings – and also true for old heat networks.

ICAX is currently installing high temperature heat pumps, in place of gas boilers, in three old district heating networks in the London Borough of Southwark which provide heating to 2,150 homes – without the need for refurbishment within any of these homes.

These ICAX heat pumps draw heat from the London Chalk Aquifer. The ICAX design and installation, will save over 66,000 tonnes of C02e over the next 25 years.

If we are serious about addressing the Climate Crisis we need to:

Look Up Now

and stop burning things for heating.

Southwark Council

There are three good engineering alternatives available right now:

Fiscal Background

We ALSO need the Chancellor to remove the misnamed “environmental levies” on electricity that add 25% to the cost of electricity and are preventing the adoption of heat pumps in this country.

A Swede is 35 times more likely to buy a heat pump than a Brit.

Not because Swedes are greener than Brits.

But because heat pumps are the cheapest form of heating in Sweden.

and burning gas is the cheapest form of heating in the UK.

– largely because of the distorting UK tax regime.

If it would be too expensive for the Chancellor to remove environmental levies from all electricity bills – then, at least, he needs to remove it for those using heat pumps. This would cost very little – as very few heat pumps have yet been installed in the UK.

It would also allow the Government to show intent in the direction of travel toward Net Zero.

We need action from government

We have seen the Heat and Buildings Strategy from government. This gets 10 out of 10 for analysing the issues, but only 1 out of 10 for actions taken.

So, let’s have some action from Government – and no more "Blah! Blah! Blah!"

No more of the Hydrogen Distraction

No more subsidies for burning wood from America in the Drax power station.

No more fantasies about “Carbon Capture and Storage”.

Heat pumps is the only safe answer if you want zero carbon heating.

ICAX knows how to design and install heat pump systems.

ICAX can help you to decarbonise UK heat.

ICAX can also decarbonise UK Heat Networks, as we are doing in the London Borough of Southwark.

ICAX are also experienced in designing and installing Fifth Generation Heat Networks – although, as I have only been allocated five minutes, I’m not able to explain that now.


See Ground Source Heating       See Ground Source Cooling      See Ground Source Energy

See: How ground source heat pumps work

See also: Fifth Generation Heat Networks