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Heat Networks in the UK

According to this article, a heat network is a “means of distributing heat from a generation source, to the end user.” This is commonly done using insulated pipes full of flowing hot water. The water can be used to heat whole rooms or for hot water.  Heating densely populated areas with this type of heating network is advantageous because it is flexible and can be sourced from multiple providers in the same pipeline.  These advantages, however, are not enough to convince most of the UK to switch to a heat network infrastructure.  Creating a network of pipelines under the dense towns of the UK may be a viable solution to reducing emissions, creating a lasting infrastructure, and keeping heat affordable.  These projects will require a lot of construction seed money and an ongoing balance between publicly regulated restrictions and standards with a private labor force.  It will be important for this idea to keep momentum and impress a large majority of citizens in order for it to come to fruition.

This project as two things to do with networks.  The first connection is that the study of connectedness, cycles, and paths with be very important for these projects.  The pipeline structures must guarantee that, if any contamination or breakdowns occur, they can cut off certain segments of the pipeline and still service the majority of people.  This means there should be a high connectedness in the structure.  Like the early internet graphs, these pipelines must be able to withstand construction, repairs, etc. on a variety of pieces of the network without breaking down the whole system.  Cycles will play into the model because the water can only flow one direction, and you don’t want it to get stuck in a loop without getting refreshed or reheated somewhere.

The second connection is to the network effect.  This project will not succeed if there is not sufficient interest.  The pushers of this network need to convince the people in local areas that these pipelines are worth having, for the economy, for the environment, for their personal benefit.  Only if there is a large enough interest will this project take off.  This is because the fact that companies will not want to lay down seed money for construction if they are not absolutely sure that it will pay off.  There is huge risk involved in this project, because if it busts, those companies can lose millions.  There will be a network affect among the initial investors (because their investment can portray their trust in the success of the project) and the citizens (because neighborhoods will have to be all-in or nothing for a pipeline to be made for them).



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