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Path dependency in provision of domestic heating


In the United Kingdom, natural gas dominates the provision of heating in buildings. In Sweden, oil heating has been largely replaced by district heating and heat pumps. The origins and outcomes of path dependence and lock-in in heat-system evolution can be country specific. Here, we compare case studies of heat transitions in the United Kingdom and Sweden, addressing the question: can path dependency help to understand why these countries have followed different paths in terms of change to their heating infrastructure? In both countries, the development of heating infrastructures can be understood as path-dependent processes, entailing increasing returns to adoption as fuel sources, infrastructures and end-use technologies coevolve such that the overall performance of the system increases. The challenge for policymakers seeking to achieve carbon targets is to consider how to create the conditions to encourage increasing returns to adoption of low-carbon heating solutions.

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Fig. 1: Fuel shares for residential and non-residential heating in selected countries.
Fig. 2: Installed central heating systems in United Kingdom households by type and fuel source, 1970 to 2014.
Fig. 3: Market shares of heat supply to residential and non-residential buildings in Sweden.


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The research on which this paper is based was undertaken as part of the research programme of the UK Energy Research Centre – Phase 3, which is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Energy Programme (grant reference EP/L024756/1). Part-funding for the original research was also provided by the Committee on Climate Change. Subsequent funding was provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for which the authors contributed to a review of international heating and cooling decarbonization policies led by Vivid Economics.

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Correspondence to Robert Gross or Richard Hanna.

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Gross, R., Hanna, R. Path dependency in provision of domestic heating. Nat Energy 4, 358–364 (2019).

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