By Tobias Parker, CEO at Sustain

It’s safe to say that the majority of us seldom think about the systems that keep our homes and workplaces warm. And why would we? Unless you’re one of Sustain’s resident heating nerds…ahem, experts, there’s no need. The humble boiler – a marvel of modern engineering and technology – has become so efficient and reliable that we no longer need to worry about keeping warm.

For most of us, the entire system that provides our heat and energy has become somewhat invisible. With direct debits, the magic switch that always works when you feel a chill, the power station humming away in the distance and our friend the boiler to bring it all together, it’s so easy. It may be dull and impersonal but, unless you are one of the thousands suffering from fuel poverty, you can mostly forget about it.

But there are unseen dangers in this seemingly docile, mundane process. Housing alone accounts for around 27% of the UK’s energy consumption, producing around 62.3 million tCO2 in a single year! That’s quite a lot of carbon to do nothing about.

Thankfully, we are taking steps to get smarter and reduce our emissions – shutting down our coal-fired power plants is one – but we certainly aren’t doing enough. Outside the UK, governments are changing the way energy is generated, distributed and used as fast as investment will allow. From wind and hydro to solar, things are really happening! But I am here to talk about heat. And what is a good discussion on heat without thinking about decentralising? Namely, through the development of district heating networks.

In the UK, we are just getting started on district heat networks. They are commonplace in Scandinavia and becoming more popular elsewhere in Europe, but the UK is behind.

On Monday, I was invited to take part in Smart Homes: More Than Just a House, with a range of Bristol based speakers as well as Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud. The afternoon included talks from experts from all over the city and all were clear that the time for action is now.

At Sustain, we believe that localising our energy systems is a big part of our future. We can now link buildings together and provide one local, central energy source more readily than ever before! By incorporating renewable energy generation from a variety of sources, coupled with new technology systems, we believe the UK can put the power back in the hands of the people – literally. Consumers will be rewarded with more flexibility and security about energy supply and the UK would be able to drastically reduce it’s carbon emissions. Plus, there would be no need for that ugly box on the wall. So, what are we waiting for?

Tobias is CEO of Sustain, an energy and carbon management consultancy based in Bristol.