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Thirty Years of Change in the Heat Networks Sector

  • Tim Ward

This summer, I’m celebrating 30 years in the district heating sector. Attending last week’s excellent BEIS event in Birmingham promoting the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP), it was quite a time for reflecting on the changes that I’ve seen since starting an engineering-based role involved in the design and tendering of turnkey heat network projects all those years ago ... 

Back in 1988:

  • Steel pre-insulated pipe systems were ubiquitous, flexible pre-insulated polymer systems were seen as a crazy idea
  • Heat meters on many residential DH schemes were, in many cases, still the low-tech evaporative type mounted on directly on radiators and early pre-payment metering systems used paper tickets with a magnetic strip
  • Coal was still widely used in energy centres (that were still known as boiler houses) and natural-gas-fired CHP was the new boy in town, promising to help decarbonise the UK’s heat and electricity supplies
  • District heating had a market share of around one per-cent and no tangible support from government
  • You could count the UK’s heat network technology suppliers on one hand (or maybe two at a push)

 It’s funny how things have changed three decades on - I’m now running my own specialist PR and marketing communications agency and still very much involved in heat networks and low-carbon energy technologies:

  • Pre-insulated polymer pipes are the popular choice for smaller systems and composite polymer technologies show the way forward
  • Heat metering and controls have leapt into the digital age and offer a whole new world of opportunities, with intelligent interfaces that empower consumers and help operators manage systems
  • Network owners are now looking to plan for the replacement of their natural-gas-fired CHP systems with lower- or zero-carbon alternatives
  • District heating has a market share of around two per-cent and government support is at an all-time high. Its Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) is set to invest around £320m by the year 2021, with the aim of stimulating a further £1billion of other capital into heat network projects
  • Every man and his dog are clamouring to get a share of the UK’s heat network market

One thing is clear, in another thirty years, heat networks will have delivered a substantial chunk of the required decarbonisation of the UK’s heat supply and the technology’s market share will have grown immeasurably.

I’ve enjoyed the last thirty years immensely and had the pleasure of working with some great people throughout the UK and Europe. Whether I’m still busy promoting the concept in 2048 remains to be seen …   



Marketing, Agency, heat networks, pre-insulated pipe, heat metering, HNIP, CHP, Low-Carbon

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