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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Heating engineer crouching down to install heat pump on outside of a brick building Photo: Adobe Stock
The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission sets out a bold, comprehensive and fully costed programme of government support for households to make the switch to heat pumps pumps and heat networks as the solution for switching buildings from gas for heating in its latest long-term infrastructure assessment

Photo: Adobe Stock

Improved infrastructure to boost economic growth across the UK and meet climate goals is both ‘achievable and affordable’ if the right policy steps are taken now, according to the latest long-term review from UK government’s independent advisers on infrastructure strategy.

The Second National Infrastructure Assessment – a five yearly review conducted by the National Infrastructure Commission – sets out a programme of transformation for the UK’s energy, transport and other key networks over the next 30 years.


Recommendations include:

  • Backing electrification as the only viable option for decarbonising buildings at scale, to reduce reliance on volatile fossil fuels, lower energy bills over the long term and to meet the UK’s climate targets, with government fully subsidising the costs of installing a heat pump for one third of households – based on income – and offering £7,000 support to all others to switch to a heat pump or heat network.
  • Adding low-carbon, flexible technologies to the electricity system to ensure a highly renewable energy system remains reliable, and creating a new strategic energy reserve to boost Great Britain’s economic security.
  • Building additional water supply infrastructure and reducing leakage, while introducing compulsory water metering as part of efforts to reduce water demand; also urgently implementing reforms to meet a 65% recycling target by 2035 and phasing out energy from waste plants that do not include carbon capture facilities.


The report calls for significant public and private investment in infrastructure if the UK to rebalance its economic geography, meet climate obligations, improve resilience and enhance the natural environment.


Attracting this investment to the UK in the face of global competition will require a new approach, says the Commission, including policy stability; pro-investment regulation; and speeding up the planning system for major projects, particularly energy transmission schemes, with regularly updated National Policy Statements from government, strategic spatial planning, more effective sharing of environmental data and clearer community benefits in return for hosting key infrastructure.


The Assessment also sets out the likely impact of the Commission’s recommendations on households, where private investment is recouped through infrastructure service bills. It suggests that the average household will save at least £1,000/y by the mid-2030s compared to today, largely driven by the transition away from fossil fuels onto cheaper low-carbon electricity.


The report draws on two years of analysis, expert engagement and public research, resulting in what Commission Chair Sir John Armitt labels ‘probably the most comprehensive assessment yet of the infrastructure costs associated with supporting regional growth and reaching net zero’.


Alongside other recommendations, the Assessment makes the case for heat pumps and heat networks as the solution for switching buildings from gas for heating. Noting that 7 million buildings in England will need to make this transition by 2035 to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget, the Commission sets out a bold, comprehensive and fully costed programme of government support for households to make the switch, including:

  • Around £1.3bn/y to 2035 to cover the full cost of heat pump installations for lower income households, with additional support for energy efficiency improvements and devolution to local authorities to manage local energy efficiency programmes.
  • Around £1.9bn/y to 2035 for an initial upfront subsidy of £7,000 to households installing a heat pump or connecting to heat networks, tapered over time as costs fall, in addition to zero per cent financing for the remaining cost.
  • Around £3.2bn/y to 2035 to improve energy efficiency and install heat pumps across the public sector estate and social housing.


In addition, it calls on government to rule out the use of hydrogen for heating and focus hydrogen on power generation and industrial decarbonisation.


New networks will need to be up and running by 2035 for the storage and transmission of hydrogen and carbon, to serve these needs and ensure heavy industry has the means to decarbonise and remain competitive in global markets. The Assessment sets out proposals for encouraging the private sector to build these networks, and offers an indicative map of core initial pipelines connecting key industrial hubs across Britain.


The Assessment also proposes significant additional electricity storage capacity and demand side response – tools to reduce or reschedule energy usage at times of peak demand – to increase the short-term flexibility of the power grid. The Commission calculates 60 GW of this capacity will be needed by 2035 (up from around 15 GW today).


To ensure resilience during extended calm or cloudy periods, the Commission also calls for effective business models to incentivise private investment in power plants driven by hydrogen, or gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Commission suggests 30 TWh of long-term flexibility provided by such plants will be needed by 2035 – about 6% of projected total electricity demand in that year.


The UK government is expected to respond to the Assessment within 12 months.


Industrial cluster decarbonisation
Meanwhile, a new report from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge says that the UK has the potential to harness the power of its industrial clusters and drive the next phase of emissions reductions while contributing to a stronger economy and energy security.


The report synthesises the individual plans from six industrial clusters around the UK – the Humber, North West, Black Country, Scotland, South Wales and Tees Valley. It identifies the steps needed for the industrial clusters to achieve their net zero targets through nationally coordinated decarbonisation, whilst also delivering material regional, economic benefits.


Five key recommendations are made, including calls for an Industrial Decarbonisation Advocate, a focus on skills and a streamlining of permitting processes.


Commenting on the report, Dr Bryony Livesey, Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge Director, says: ‘Industrial cluster decarbonisation is a vital part of the UK’s push towards net zero and our Enabling Net Zero report outlines the actions we must take to establish at least four low-carbon clusters by 2030 and the world’s first net zero industrial cluster by 2040.’