Trade body ADE established a Task Force last year to consider new proposals and principles for the District Heating industry.(i) Their report Shared Warmth | A heat network market that benefits customers, investors, and the environment, came out today.(ii)
The Task Force of stakeholders acknowledged the need for regulation of the industry, since heat networks are monopolies, which “can lead to unreliable service, . . . poorly controlled and costly heating and . . . poor customer service”.
They recognised that for the industry to grow, “customers need to have a consistently good experience, fair and transparent pricing, and an assurance that when things do go wrong they will receive effective and fair redress.”
Yet they limited the scope of their recommendations to principles for future networks. There are already some 17,000 heat networks in the UK, and while many function well, there are thousands of households in networks built over the past decade with private capital, where dysfunctional and unaffordable heating has made life a misery.(ii)
District Heating users were not invited to be part of the Task Force, but with Fuel Poverty Action a group of them, from four estates, brought their harsh experience to ADE director Tim Rotheray, in December. They were thanked for their time, and told that their information would be helpful for the future, but that in their own situation nothing could be done.
Residents on such housing estates hope for the best for new developments, but as one says, “Whilst I appreciate many DH customers are reported as happy, that doesn’t mean we should be ignored, brushed to one side or forgotten.”
The nationwide survey “Heat Networks Consumer Survey” conducted by BEIS and published in December found that three quarters of heat network users are satisfied with their heating. Fuel Poverty Action maintains that if, as claimed, problematic networks are a minority, and standards are now improving, the industry as a whole bears a collective responsibility to bring all existing heat networks up to standard. Ruth London comments:
Experience has shown that with expert intervention tariffs can be halved, and reliability greatly improved. An industry-wide rescue plan for failing schemes would provide the consistency and certainty that the ADE Task Force says is essential for industry growth. It would also ensure that the human guinea pigs in failed District Heating experiments get the redress they so desperately need, to keep warm.
The report’s only recommendation fo existing heat network customers is that a regulator should “eventually widen the scope” of a Supplier of Last Resort, to “include all heat networks”. The Supplier of Last Resort would step in when a heat network fails. FPA believes that this basic protection, normal for essential services like energy or heat, should be extended to all immediately, and should apply when a network fails to fulfil its obligations to customers at an acceptable standard, as well as if it fails to meet its financial obligations.
(i) District Heating – like central heating for neighbourhoods, supplies heat to homes from a communal source, replacing gas boilers. There are now about 17,000 such heat networks, but this is to expand massively in the next decade, with the help of £320 million of government money. The industry is currently unregulated.
(iii) See for example our report of the network on Myatts Field North, in Lambeth here, and numerous reports by Which? and Citizens Advice.