Post-COVID-19, Net Zero, Heating of Buildings


This research examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the heating of buildings and the transition to Net Zero in the UK. As a final part of a 5-year project by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), the research builds on previous work while also undertaking new empirical studies into changes in energy use during the COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK. With the socioeconomic challenges of the pandemic alongside the ongoing imperative to tackle the climate emergency, the project addresses the challenges of social inequity and public policy change around the adoption of de-carbonised heating solutions.

Over a 5-month period, Dr Gesche Huebner at University College London (UCL) will lead the collaborative analysis by 8 researchers from the University of Sussex, UCL and University of Lancaster of wide-ranging changes in energy use in domestic and non-domestic buildings in the UK as a result of the pandemic.

The research includes statistical analysis of household boiler use, national gas and electricity data, interviews with households, as well as interviews with fashion and clothing industry professionals to conduct an unprecedented multidisciplinary study of the technological, social and cultural changes in UK energy use as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Approach

The project builds on existing research by the Smart Energy Research Lab and CREDS on domestic energy use during the pandemic, involving a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods:

- Comparative analysis of data from before, during and after the first COVID-19 lockdown from boiler meter readings from 100,000 UK households, and national gas and electricity use statistics, to create a multi-layered picture of changing national heating energy use in response to the pandemic.

- A survey of 1,000 UK households, and interviews with specific household case studies from the survey on self-reported energy use and reasons for heating behaviour and other lifestyle choices to bolster boiler, gas and electricity data with in-depth social research.

- Interviews with fashion industry stakeholders on the role of clothing in home energy consumption.

- Using the insights from the statistical, survey and interview data to model changing property use data in London and using 3DStock software to forecast the capital’s energy demand and the possibility of decarbonising heat pump installations.

The different elements of the project will produce detailed multilevel analyses of heating use before and after lockdown, and any behavioural changes underlying these trends. It will also feature insights for the future of energy demand and related urban planning.

Impact and Outreach

Addressing wider social and cultural trends, as well as the logistics of Net Zero heat sources, the research highlights the policy potential for more sustainable energy use by increasingly domestic urban workforces.  The research is expected to provide rich analysis of the UK’s heating energy demand, and use, and the cultural – as well as technological – impacts around a transition to adopting Net Zero heating solutions.  The research team will engage directly with key stakeholders, including  the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Further information

The University of Sussex’s Mari Martiskainen and Chukwuka Monyei are part of the team led by Gesche Huebner (UCL) and also comprising Cliff Elwell (UCL), Virginia Gori (UCL), Dominic Humphrey (UCL), Janine Morley (Lancaster) and Daniel Godoy-Shimizu (UCL). The project is funded by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS).