The way end users consume energy is set to transform as we change the way we heat our homes and the use of electric cars increases. This will, in turn, require energy networks to transition and change, as was discussed last week at the ETI conference “The Networks Jigsaw”.
Heat accounts for 45% of energy use and is the greatest single source of demand in the UK. Therefore, it will be a focal point for innovations that will help to meet legally binding emission reductions in the UK of 57% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 (against 1990 levels). It is expected that we will see a range of solutions to replace the conventional use of natural gas for heat, such as heat networks, electric heating, and solar combined with heat storage. Approaches could differ by location as local councils decide whether to invest in energy centres and distributed heat, which will be more effective in highly populated areas. While innovative technologies are already being installed at newly built sites, it is recognised that the greatest efficiency improvements can be made by retrofitting existing buildings.
Hydrogen can be a flexible source of energy for power generation and could also replace the use of natural gas for heat in the home. However, hydrogen use in the UK is in its infancy, and the development of a hydrogen network would be required before its applications can be grown. The extent of the network would depend on the use that hydrogen is to be put to. Increased development of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) would also be needed to support the manufacture of hydrogen from natural gas.
It is evident that all scenarios that meet greenhouse gas targets require an increased use of electricity, which creates a challenge for the electricity network. The use of a range of storage technologies will play an important part in balancing centralised and distributed power generation. Consumer behaviour also plays an important part. For example, it is not yet known how consumers will interact with electric cars and whether they can be encouraged to charge cars overnight. The ETI is currently running a two-year project to understand the consumer response to a wider introduction of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK and the required changes to existing infrastructure.
It is acknowledged that the cost of transforming the energy network will feed through to consumers’ energy bills, with a spokesperson for BEIS supporting short-term investments for long-term benefit. The government has said that spending on energy innovation investments is set to reach £400 million per year by 2020. In June, BEIS committed £35 million in two heat innovation projects using smart systems and hydrogen gas as alternatives to conventional natural gas.
Written By – Nikki Wilson