‘We cannot electrify until we reduce heat demand as a nation’

In this week’s Net Hero Podcast, we spoke to Professor David Glew of Leeds Beckett University who told us that living conditions improve significantly for those who insulate their homes

Big Zero Report 2023

Decarbonising heat has been especially difficult in the UK.

This is what Professor David Glew, Director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute told us in this week’s Net Hero Podcast.

‘You look at the Climate Change Commission’s projections on all the different sectors that are all making great progress except for buildings and heating buildings.

‘I think it’s [because] we just have heat. We have these boilers in cupboards. We don’t have a physical connection and it’s invisible.

‘Maybe if we did have more of a connection, we would care more. But our heating is just set up. It just turns on. We only notice it when it breaks.

‘And one of the things that we can really see in the research that we do is energy literacy levels are really quite low. It’s not really part of the national curriculum.

‘And the way in which we pay for our heat is so remote from our use of it. It’s not like any other transaction we make. You go to a shop, you buy something, you physically get it there.

‘Not only do we not do that with heat, every time we turn the radiator on. We don’t pay anything. We don’t even pay at the end of the month, the amount that we used, because it’s spread out. So I actually think the lack of connection, maybe we’ve lost something there.’

David told us that replacing gas in our energy systems is difficult with current infrastructure.

‘85% of us use gas to heat our homes and that’s a big challenge because of peak heat. Peak heat is when you’ve got certain demand when everyone, [for example], 09:00 in the morning, 20 million boilers kick in and that is a huge draw.

‘Now, gas is the reason we’ve adopted this energy system because gas can just sit there. Can’t do that with electricity, can’t just have a massive store of electricity. So this is the peak heat challenge.

‘And so it doesn’t matter that we can produce a lot of renewable energy, we need to produce it at the time that we need it during that peak period.’

David said that insulation is an important solution to decarbonising heat.

‘People say that you have got to insulate homes to make people warm and comfortable. Yes, you do. Get people out of fuel poverty? Yes, it will. Maybe make heat pumps work more efficiently? Yes, maybe. But the real reason we need to insulate the nation is peak heat.

‘Because if we are going to electrify, we literally cannot do it until we reduce heat demand, until we slice that Mount Everest down.’

David’s team is collaborating with the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) to research the difference insulation can make on reducing heat demand.

‘We did about 41 retrofits but we did them in only 14 homes. [And] solid wall installation by far was the only thing which works well, if you were really serious about getting homes to an EPC of A-C.’

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