Co-creating visions and pathways for integrated urban heat systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


Transforming the heat system is an urgent priority for the UK. The Committee on Climate Change, an independent advisor to the UK Government, has stated that immediate action is required if we are to radically reduce carbon emissions produced by the provision of heat and meet our national and international climate-change targets. In addition to the pressing need to mitigate climate change, fuel poverty affects 11% of households in England; we need to find ways to provide affordable heating in the face of rising energy prices. The demand for cooling is also likely to rise substantially in coming years in response to a warmer climate and growing thermal comfort requirements, which will increase energy use and add to carbon emissions.

Cities could provide the key to transforming our heat systems. Around 80% of people in the UK live in urban areas. There are many decentralised technology options available for moving from fossil fuel-based heat provision to affordable low-carbon systems, including household technologies such as heat pumps and biomass stoves, networks that provide heat from renewable and waste heat sources, and the replacement of natural gas with hydrogen in the gas grid. Previous modelling of urban heat systems has focussed on understanding potential uptake of just one of these technology types, and has often assumed that there would be one 'system architect'. In reality, an integrated mix of technologies will be needed, and the system will contain multiple decision-makers. My research will help incorporate this complexity into models that can be used to explore various heat-system scenarios. What mix of technologies would most benefit the multiple stakeholders in cities? Where should we invest in a city if we want to reduce fuel poverty? And how do the many decision-makers involved - including local authorities, gas and electricity networks operators, and central government - make decisions now to ensure that our heating and cooling needs are met for the next 30 years?

Through this fellowship I will produce the frameworks, tools and models to help answer these questions. The findings will inform the long-term energy planning that the radical transformation of our urban heat systems will require. By applying the methods of complexity science to the heat system (by considering interactions between different sub-systems, e.g housing and energy), considering the spatial diversity of the evolution of demand for heating and cooling over the next 30 years (in response to drivers such as climate change and population growth), and exploring the integration of different technology options within a city (some technologies may operate centrally, others at the household level; they may vary by different fuel types e.g. electricity, gas or direct provision of heat), this work will empower effective, informed, forward-looking decision-making among city stakeholders.

The methods and tools developed in this research will be applied to two UK case-study cities in order to co-produce visions of future urban energy systems (for example, where in a city different technologies could be deployed, and what benefits this might bring) and identify pathways towards those systems (i.e. who would need to act, and by when). The tools themselves will be co-created with stakeholders (such as local authorities, energy network operators, communities and policy-makers) so that they reflect these stakeholders' objectives (across economic, social and environmental metrics) and the reality of their decision-making processes. A subsequent evaluation process will help to identify ways in which these innovative participatory complex-systems modelling approaches could be applied to other energy-system challenges, multiplying the capacity of this research not only to contribute to the academic study of energy systems, but to shape the future of urban heat systems in the UK and beyond.

Planned Impact

A number of economic and societal impacts are expected from this fellowship. The primary goals are to:
* Enable radical transformation of UK urban heat systems by 2050 to provide low-carbon, affordable and secure heating and cooling (long-term)
* Develop methods that embed complex-systems thinking and participatory modelling approaches that could be applied in other cities (by stakeholders) and to other energy systems integration challenges (by researchers) (short-term)
* Provide evidence on the evolution of demand for heating and cooling in cities, and the factors driving this evolution, to 2050 (mid-term)
* Develop a route-map for urban heat systems beyond 2030 for two UK cities, to support decision-making for the integration of different technologies and energy vectors in order to meet likely future demand for heating and cooling (mid-term)
* Offer guidance for other UK cities in terms of technology mixes, business models and policies that would deliver economic, social and environmental value (mid-term)
* Provide evidence for national and local policies that support the integrated development of urban heat systems and would lead to heat systems that deliver value over multiple metrics, offering a better investment and avoiding unintended consequences and stranded assets (mid-term).

There are a range of beneficiaries of this research. Through discussion with stakeholders and collaborative work on other projects, I have identified the following groups:
UK CITY STAKEHOLDERS, including public-sector organisations (such as local authorities and combined authorities) that have a role in the planning of cities and delivery partners such as housing authorities. These are the stakeholders who will implement urban heat systems infrastructure change. I have a very strong working relationship with Leeds City Council and contacts with the other UK Core Cities and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. The newly formed Leeds Climate Commission will also be influential.
NATIONAL POLICY MAKERS, in particular the Committee on Climate Change an independent statutory body that advises the UK Government on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I previously contributed to CCC's 5th carbon budget report. This group also includes the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (specifically the heat policy team) as well as those that provide expert guidance and review of government policy, such as the Committee on Fuel Poverty and the National Infrastructure Commission.
REGULATED ENERGY SECTOR ORGANISATIONS, including the regulated gas and electricity distribution network operators that have a role in planning regional and urban energy infrastructure.
ENERGY INDUSTRY including private-sector companies that would be involved in the development of larger infrastructure schemes and/or relevant building-level heat technologies.
PUBLIC CITIZENS and community energy groups who will benefit from heat systems that provide affordable and secure heating and cooling services, leading to health and wellbeing gains.

The majority of beneficiaries will be UK-based, but some results will be relevant to international stakeholders such as the International Energy Agency, which disseminates best practice for energy initiatives and has a specific interest in urban energy systems.
Project partners from the various beneficiary groups have been confirmed and include: CAG consultants, who review government energy policy programmes; the Committee on Climate Change, which has significant influence over national policy and is also interested in engaging local stakeholders; Energy Local, a social enterprise with a focus on localised energy systems; the Energy Systems Catapult, who have expertise in whole-systems modelling; Leeds City Council, who will provide data and knowledge in support of a case study; and Northern Gas Networks and Northern Powergrid, who represent the utility and infrastructure asset holders perspective.


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Title Literature Review for the Net Zero Industry Coalition heat decarbonisation roadmaps 
Description This data contains the sources consulted for, and key characteristics of, 87 pathways for decarbonisation of heating in the UK. These form the basis of a literature review carried out for the Net Zero Infrastructure Coalition, and summarised in the report "Net Zero Infrastructure Coalition: Heat Decarbonisation Roadmaps". The literature review was carried out to understand the range of heat decarbonisation pathways that have already been proposed by industry, academia and other organisations, and identify any especially useful pathways to act as a starting point for further development of the roadmaps contained within the report. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Development of report titled The Path To Zero Carbon Heat 
Description Member of the UKERC Whole Systems Networking Fund steering group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Supporting delivery phase of UKERC Whole Systems Networking Fund that will involve a series of calls for small and large networking grant proposals. Advising on future direction of fund.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019