Heat - the forgotten energy-use

Man uses his energy resources for three broad purposes - electricity, transport and heat. In the UK, our energy resources are split roughly equally between these three uses (see DECC's energy flowchart for an overview). Attention tends to focus on the first two, but heat (not just to heat our buildings and hot water, but process heat for our industries) is equally important to our well-being.

Natural gas - dominance and insecurity

At the moment, most British heat comes from burning natural gas. Gas is a relatively clean fossil fuel (compared to coal and oil) and the remaining reserves are more abundant than the reserves of oil. Nevertheless, combustion of gas is responsible for a substantial proportion of our carbon emissions, and global reserves of gas are probably only a decade or two further away from reaching their peak of production than are the oil reserves. And while gas production may be capable of marginal increases for a while longer, demand is growing faster than supply.

UK gas reserves have already peaked and are in decline, making us increasingly dependent on imports from a handful of countries, not all of which are stable or friendly. The government, media and other intellectuals worry about the security of our electricity supplies in the face of our increasing dependence on gas imports, but gas fuels only around 40% of our electricity, compared to 90% of our heat. Twice as much gas goes to producing heat as to producing electricity. An increase in the diversity of our heating fuels would have a greater benefit for our energy security than would a further modification in the balance of fuels used to produce electricity (see page on alternative sources of heat).

Reducing dependence on gas for heating

Some of our European allies, such as Sweden, Austria and Latvia, are very much less dependent on natural gas than us. The common thread is that biomass makes up a much larger proportion of their energy supplies than it does in the UK, and most of that biomass goes to production of heat, not electricity. Successive UK governments' obsession with electricity (fuelled by powerful lobbying by the big energy companies) and blindness towards heat has left us near the bottom of the league table for diversifying away from fossil fuels.

We believe that this is a classic case where reality will out. However much our government might like to carry on ignoring heat, scarcity, high prices and import dependence will force them to face reality in the end. We are therefore investing in the production and supply of biomass fuels.

Wood pellets - the convenient form of biomass heating

Wood is the most common form of biomass used in those countries where biomass is a significant part of the energy mix. The UK has more limited forest resources than most countries, but sustainable forestry could still play a valuable role if developed. And the import of further wood-fuel by sea from countries whose forest resource is greater than their heat demand is as practical as importing coal, gas and oil. Pelletising the wood makes it more compact and easier to handle, reducing the economic, energy and carbon costs of transporting wood fuel to a small proportion of the value of the wood.

Summerleaze has therefore invested (and continues to seek further investments) in forests, both in the UK and abroad. We are considering projects to produce wood pellets, with wood from our own forests and from others. And we own and are investing heavily in Forever Fuels, the leading wood-pellet supplier in Britain, to provide the secure, national distribution and supply chain that is needed for the wood-heating market to flourish.