Why it's not just policy uncertainty threatening future of renewable heat

That is the conclusion of a major new report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), which comes in the same week as the government admitted slow progress in rolling out renewable heat technologies was putting the UK's legally-binding green energy target for 2020 at risk.

The report, entitled Consumer Challenges for Low Carbon Heat, investigated some of the consumer-related barriers to installing a range of renewable heat technologies, including solar thermal panels and ground source heat pumps.

The study warned the deployment of renewable heat technologies has been hampered by both location constraints that require many homes to be modified so that low carbon heating systems can work effectively, as well as a range of consumer concerns about the cost and comfort implications of switching from gas boilers.

The report identified three "key consumer challenges" that will need to be overcome if low carbon heating systems are to be deployed at scale.

First, there was a need to improve low carbon heating "experiences" by developing products are clearly superior to  conventional boilers.

Second, low carbon heating systems should be easier to install. "Workable low carbon heating solutions should be designed so they can be installed in a similar timeframe to a gas boiler," the report stated.

Finally, improved heating controls will be required to convince people to switch from conventional boilers, the report said.

According to the ETI, currently fewer than four per cent of households have low carbon heating systems. This demands a step change in the rate of installation of renewable heat technologies over the coming decades if the UK is to meet its carbon targets.

"The UK will need to all but eliminate emissions from domestic heating if it is to meet its carbon targets," warned report author Matthew Lipson, who is also head of consumer insight at the government-backed Energy Systems Catapult.

"Previous measures to reduce emissions have been relatively simple, cheap and delivered benefits," he said.

"But the options currently available to make further step-change reductions would require households to endure more disruption for less obvious benefits."

The report comes amid growing concern the UK will struggle to meet its legally-binding target to secure 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, largely as a result of slow progress deploying renewable heat and transport fuel technologies.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd confirmed this week the UK was on track to source just 11.5 per cent of its energy from renewables by the end of decade, adding that she was keen to see policies strengthened to accelerate the roll out of renewable heat systems.

However, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is reportedly also under intense pressure from the Treasury to cut spending with the extension of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme beyond 2017 a potential casualty of any cuts.

The ETI report also highlights how even with increased financial incentives for renewable heat systems, barriers will remain in place until a wider range of enhanced products come onto the market.

"Any solutions will need to be underpinned by sound engineering; high quality design; appropriate technical, consumer and economic regulation; and financially viable business models," Lipson said. "But ultimately they will need to be appealing, simple to install and easy to control."