ADE: time to act on heat networks

The UK is poised to take the lead in developing heat networks, but the key is to capitalise on this opportunity. Vattenfall Heat UK, the official backer of the Association for Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) annual winter reception, shared this insight during the event held at the House of Commons.

ADE winter reception highlights the UK's potential to lead in heat networks.

ADE members, political stakeholders and other industry leaders gathered to explore the theme of Shared Visions, Sustainable Futures: Delivering a just transition for net zero, focusing on the future of heat network expertise, technology and deployment.   

The scaling up of heat networks will play a key role in the UK reaching net zero – at the moment, they supply around 2% of the UK’s heating, a figure that must increase to 20% by 2050 to align with targets. Strategic planning and long-term investment are key to the success of city-scale heat networks.  

Taking to the stage, Vattenfall Heat UK’s managing director Jenny Curtis said: “Other countries may have had a head start on heat networks, but the UK is perfectly placed not only to catch up but to lead. We have a fresh start on heat network development, can deploy smart meters from the get-go rather than retrofitting, and have the ability to take much better advantage of waste heat sources from the start.  

Grab the chance with both hands

“Heat networks are fundamental to reaching net zero, and now we need to see strategic planning that truly supports serious, multi-decade investment into the sector. The estimated investment opportunity for heat networks in the UK by 2050 is as much as £80 billion, and all stakeholders need to grab this chance with both hands.”  

The sector was delighted to hear from shadow minister for industry and decarbonisation, Sarah Jones MP, who told the audience: “Certainty of direction, consistency of delivery and clarity of design are critical for heat networks. Labour has heard this loud and clear and is developing an industrial strategy to meet the needs of the future.  

“We need to decarbonise towns, cities, and steel and industry while maintaining jobs. We have significant challenges ahead, but with that comes significant opportunity, and we look forward to working with all of you here today to deliver that.”  

The ADE’s interim CEO Caroline Bragg, emphasised that 2025 represents a historic turning point, with global energy-related emissions set to peak, and investments in decentralised energy climbing ever higher.

Growing debate

Speaking at the event, she said: “It is really important that the decentralised energy sector has strong ideas about the way that we move forward – over the last year, we have seen a growing debate around how we build infrastructure in this country, we know that we are far, far away from where we need to be, and we have seen the scale of how we need to change.  

“We cannot continue with the approach that we have taken, which in some ways has undervalued communities that we are trying to serve and that, ultimately, we are trying to bring outcomes to. Decentralised energy needs to put itself out there more boldly to answer the questions of how to move infrastructure forward at pace and how to do that while bringing communities along with us.”