The rise of low carbon district heating

Heating from domestic and commercial buildings is a significant contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions. One of the biggest changes that will help the UK to hit its ambitious net zero target by 2050 is a move towards low carbon district heating.

District heating is a distribution system of insulated pipes that take heat from a central source and deliver it to a number of buildings which could include homes, businesses and public buildings. 

Nathan Bradberry, a partner at law firm Bevan Brittan specialises in energy and infrastructure and is working on a number of district heat projects across the country. He explains why district heating offers a lower carbon solution: “District heating networks are compatible with a range of heat sources including low carbon options like heat pumps. They can also utilise waste heat from a number of sources including from industrial processes, canals, sewers and mine water. 

“Using a large, centralised pump to supply numerous properties also means increased performance and efficiencies compared to individual heat solutions. District heat networks also have the potential to make the most of any future advances in low carbon heat technology, such as hydrogen.”

There are also wider benefits from district heat, as Nathan Bradberry explains: “These networks will offer cost effective heating and hot water, which will help with issues around fuel poverty. Moving away from traditional energy sources of oil and gas will also help with the UK’s long term energy security.”

Government support and funding

The government supports the move towards district heating, and it was a key part of the government’s Heat and Building Strategy, which was launched in 2021. As part of its Net Zero modelling, the Committee on Climate Change showed that 19% of the UK’s heat supply will need to come from heat networks by 2050, an increase from the current figure of 3%. 

“The government is continuing to commit to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon heat networks and is investing £338 million over the next few years in the Network Transformation Programme,” says Nathan Bradberry. “Heat networks also offer potential for commercial investors, particularly those that are looking for opportunities which meet ESG criteria.”

Leeds PIPES – low carbon district heating network

One of the best examples of low carbon district heating in development can be found in Leeds where Leeds City Council and Vital Energi are constructing a district heating network – the Leeds PIPES network. The network will provide low carbon heat and hot water to homes and businesses in the city centre, reusing heat which is already being produced at the Recycling and Energy Recovering Facility in the city.

Bevan Brittan is advising Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust on its connection to the Leeds PIPES network. 

Evolving regulation

The Government has reiterated its intention to implement regulation to support the transformation of the heat network market, which is likely to introduce customer standards and give equivalent statutory rights for heat networks as other utilities. “The case for low carbon heat networks is clear. I hope that the industry will embrace the changes that are coming through greater regulation,” adds Nathan Bradberry.

In addition, pilot ‘heat network zones’ are running which will provide local authorities in England with powers to require certain buildings to connect to the heat network. 

“These zoning proposals could provide significant support to the roll-out of heat networks as it will support investment decisions to install or grow a network, as it means there will be more certainty over the heat demand and customers that will utilise the network. I hope that will encourage more investors into this sector,” adds Nathan Bradberry.

Members of the Bevan Brittan Leeds team will be attending the UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum on 16 – 18 May. Come and join them on the second day (17 May) for breakfast and networking, followed by a panel discussion on: District Heat and Sustainability – how can we decarbonise and what’s in the pipeline? Register here.


Nathan Bradberry is a nationally recognised expert providing legal and commercial advice on all aspects of energy infrastructure (including district energy projects) involving the construction, installation or upgrade of energy infrastructure, together with the delivery of operation, maintenance and service delivery requirements. To contact Nathan please email or call 03701 941666. For more information on Bevan Brittan visit