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UK bioenergy industry responds to Heat and Buildings Strategy’s exclusion of rural communities

Sustainable publication Bioenergy Insight reports that the UK’s biomass heat industry has urged the government to stop ignoring and excluding rural off-grid communities in heat decarbonisation plans

The UK Pellet Council and Biomass Heat Works! raised concerns following the announcement of the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, as approximately 1.45 million rural off-grid homes are unable to decarbonise their heating via the gas grid under current electrification policy routes.

Research shows that at least 70% of rural homes use fossil fuels such as oil, LPG, or coal as their primary heating source, including 422,000 properties out of the 1.45 million that will not be suited to ground or air source heat pumps under current Government policy because of their age, size, type of building or location.

Almost 99% of proposed future funding under the Clean Heat policy is being directed towards ASHP installations leaving a significant number of homeowners and rural constituents still unable or to switch to low-carbon solutions.

Full article:

Bioenergy Industry - UK bioenergy industry responds to Heat and Buildings Strategy

The Rural Services Network has been considering key government documents and publications ‘Through a Rural Lens’ to see how rural communities and their services are considered.

We have reviewed the ‘Sustainable Warmth: Protecting Vulnerable Households In England’, Policy Paper (BEIS).

This policy paper was published on 11 Feb 2021 and ‘Rural’ is briefly mentioned just 3 times in the document in the following contexts:

- Defra’s responsibilities include air quality and rural issues
- Around 500,000 fuel poor households live in rural areas
- The Rural Community Energy Fund

You can download our rural lens review document here

Revitalising Rural: Realising the Vision is a campaign led by the Rural Services Network to challenge Government on a number of policy areas that affect rural communities.

The campaign features on a number of topics which are pertinent across rural communities and one of these areas is 'Decarbonising Rural Communities and Economies'.

The impacts of dangerous climate change will affect all communities. This much is already clear from the rural impacts of increasingly frequent storm damage, flood events and periods of drought.

Minimising man-made climate change matters as much to rural communities and businesses as it does to any others.

Rural areas, which host more than a sixth of England’s population and which cover most of its land area, must play their full part if the UK is to rapidly reduce its carbon footprint and achieve its net zero target.

An approach focussed on urban areas alone would fail.

The asks in the Decarbonising Rural Communities and Economies chapter of the Revitalising Rural campaign can be shown below:

Economic growth programmes: all such programmes should include explicit objectives to support low carbon and net zero growth. Specialist advice and related grant funding should be made available for existing rural businesses to help them reduce their carbon footprint. Government should use its Covid-19 recovery package, A Plan for Jobs 2020, to improve energy efficiency in rural homes, especially off the mains gas grid. This would make them greener and easier to heat, whilst supporting green jobs for tradespeople in rural areas.

Housing and renewables: housebuilders, homeowners and landlords should be incentivised to install or adopt renewable or low carbon energy technologies, which would also help address rural fuel poverty. The target recently set for installing heat pumps is useful, but that technology will not suit some properties, not least many older and hard-to-decarbonise homes in off-grid rural areas which the Government indicates are a priority. The approach for retrofitting existing homes, including eligibility to access the Homes Upgrade Grant, therefore needs to cover other options such as biofuels and heat networks.

Housing energy efficiency: for maximum effect, the switch to renewables should happen in conjunction with making homes more energy efficient. The technology for housing development to Passivhaus standards exists, but the financial model needs development, not least in rural areas where development sites tend to be small and have fewer economies of scale. Some pilot exemplar rural schemes should be supported to test feasibility and improve viability of the approach, paving the way for commercial provision to such standards in future.

Electric vehicle charging: the funding recently announced by Government to make quicker progress with rolling out rapid charging infrastructure is welcome. It must, however, be used to improve the network of public charging points across rural areas (including those areas distant from motorways or trunk roads). Drivers in rural areas are more likely to travel further and gaps in the network are a practical constraint given typical ranges of e-vehicles.

Rural buses: introducing buses using electric battery or hydrogen fuel cell technologies involves significant investment, both in new vehicles and depot fuelling facilities. This may be hard to justify in rural areas unless bus service patronage grows. Current electric buses also have a limited range that will be inadequate for some rural routes. A comprehensive review is needed of the electric grid and, where appropriate, hydrogen supply to avoid punitive upgrade costs arising in rural areas.

Electricity network capacity: the path towards net zero will significantly boost demand for electricity, not least to heat homes and charge cars. Government and energy industry must ensure that electricity distribution networks, sub-stations and connections are made fit-for-purpose. This will be particularly relevant in rural areas, where infrastructure is often less robust.

Local energy networks: Government should provide gap funding to kick start the development of decentralised energy networks in rural areas, where they typically face higher costs due to serving low population and housing densities. This would support the growth of networks that are based on local renewable production or combined heat and power technologies. These could also help retain money within local rural economies and support local jobs.

Local services: it should not be overlooked that one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions in rural areas is to retain and, where possible, grow locally based services, such as food shops, post offices, schools, GP surgeries and transport networks. Equally, that providing good digital connectivity will reduce the need for rural residents to travel and enable home working. Policies for public transport, digital, land use planning, community action, education and health all have a part to play.


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