Low carbon residential heating - Grantham Briefing Paper 6

Topics: Mitigation
Type: Briefing paper
Publication date: September 2011



Authors: Dr Adam Hawkes, Luis Munuera and Professor Goran Strbac

UK houses Thermal energy was responsible for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions for the residential sector of the UK in 2008. It forms an important component of national emissions and energy consumption.

Furthermore, mitigation in the sector is not straightforward because at present the vast majority of thermal demand is met by burning fuels, mainly natural gas, in boilers. This technological paradigm must change if deep emissions cuts are to be achieved, and this change is likely to have major systemic impacts and implications for transitions and investment needs elsewhere in the energy system.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ‘buildings’ sector has the greatest potential for economic mitigation actions (i.e. those that both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have a positive net present value). This is particularly true of heating in the residential sector, where commercially available measures can often allow payback within a few years, and a long-term strategic approach could deliver further significant greenhouse gas reductions at relatively low cost. Given this combination of characteristics and the fact that emissions reductions in the sector have historically been less than policy makers have hoped for, it is important to understand how policy might stimulate effective action.

This briefing paper aims to provide an overview of some of the key technical, economic, and environmental issues associated with achieving a low carbon residential sector. It starts with a brief introduction to the candidate interventions, focusing on those that can provide deeper emissions reduction and that are perceived to be able to achieve a mass market. The potential for reducing emissions is then considered via a discussion of appropriate emissions rates for performance assessment. Continuing in this technical vein, the paper goes on to explore the impact on the requirement for upstream assets (e.g. transmission and distribution network infrastructure, gas distribution infrastructure, centralised power stations, etc). Finally, the policy challenges are discussed, leading to a suggested research agenda.


  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Technical aspects 
  • Potential for climate changemitigation
  • Policy challenges
  • Research agenda
  • Conclusion 


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