Atlantic Cities

Going Off the Grid in London

Sustainable technologies should be a no-brainer for households and businesses seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and lower their energy bills. However, the expense of installing new technology can be a major disincentive to going green. That is why the British government is helping to pay for renewable energy heating technologies with its $1.39 billion Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the world’s first scheme to subsidize low-carbon heating. 

The ultimate objective of RHI is to decrease dependence on the gas and electricity grids that use fossil fuels.  The incentive program has especially significant implications for making London a more sustainable city, because the vast majority of the city’s energy supplies currently come from large power stations located miles away. In addition to coming from carbon-polluting fossil fuels, up to two thirds of this energy is lost before reaching the city. 
 
Under RHI, private businesses and households will receive subsidies from the British government for installing renewable energy technologies such as biomass boilers, ground- or water-source heat pumps, and solar thermal equipment.
 
RHI is one of the primary tools for London’s sustainable energy infrastructure plan, which aims to cut 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Most of that reduction will be achieved through initiatives to de-carbonize the city’s energy supply and reduce emissions from existing buildings. Indeed, starting in 2016 all major new residential development proposals in London will be required to use energy in such a way that they have zero carbon emissions.  
 
London has taken steps to implement RHI and other energy saving strategies by developing technologies such as the interactive web-based London Heat Map. This application helps property developers, landlords, and private investors identify the potential for decentralized energy opportunities in specific areas of London. The map includes data on heating supply, fuel sources, and carbon dioxide emissions for major energy consumers, energy supply plants, and community heating networks where a number of buildings are heated from a central source. Under London’s sustainable infrastructure plan, 25 percent of the city’s energy supply is to be moved off the gas and electricity grid and onto local decentralized systems by 2025.
 
London has also created a Centre for Efficient and Renewable Energy in Buildings to provide expertise and support to all of its districts, which includes detailed energy master planning to identify potential opportunities for decentralized energy generation. 
 
RHI has the potential to transform alternative energy industries by greatly increasing demand for their products.  In conjunction with the renewable energy community heating networks being promoted throughout London, RHI will help to pay for infrastructure that may make it possible for entire neighborhoods to run on renewable fuels such as biogas, woodchips, and other alternative fuels. When renewable energy networks such as the London Thames Gateway Heat Network are up and running, they will be capable of locally producing and distributing their own heating and electricity through the groundwater-source heat pumps and solar panels that RHI helps pay for.
 
Eventually, the increasing use of renewable heat technologies will reach an economy of scale that will bring down prices on biomass boilers and ground-source heat pumps. Meanwhile, when it comes to their utility bills, consumers won’t have to wait to see the benefits. Because renewable energy is significantly more efficient—and because much of it will be locally produced and distributed—the cost savings will go directly to the homeowners and businesses that install the new technologies.
 
 
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