Consumer advise experts at The Heating Hub have warned consumers not to get ‘hooked’ on the latest technologies in the drive to reduce carbon emissions, stating that they should focus on selecting the most appropriate system for their household requirements.
The UK Government recently announced ambitious plans to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 and has committed to phasing out natural gas boilers in new build homes by 2025.
Decarbonizing homes is a top priority and heat pumps and hydrogen could be significant breakthroughs"
Jo Alsop, Founder of The Heating Hub, said “Decarbonizing homes is a top priority and advancements such as heat pumps and hydrogen could be significant breakthroughs. However, such technologies will not be appropriate for every property. Consumers need to be very careful not to buy into the latest ‘trend’ but rather to get a clear specification on what will be the most efficient and effective solution for their homes and to ensure that whatever the heat source, it runs at its peak efficiency.”
Jo adds, “It doesn’t matter how good the technology is on paper; if the installation is inadequate the heating system won’t operate at peak efficiency and the potential economic and environmental benefits will never be fully realized. Many air source heat pump owners have suffered high fuel bills because the technology was unsuitable for their home and/or it was poorly specified.”
Strategy to decarbonize heating
According to the National Grid, heating accounts for 20% of UK emissions, making it imperative that the UK finds low carbon sources of fuel in order to meet net zero targets by 2050.
Jo continued, stating “Specifying regulations for new build properties is just the tip of the iceberg. We urgently need a strategy to decarbonize heating for the 27.5 million homes with existing gas boilers. While heat pumps are incredibly efficient, they are not suitable for many smaller or older properties, which will struggle to find space for air source heat pumps and the larger radiators they require.”
The next ten years will need to see a huge, national program of whole-house retro-fitting
Hydrogen boilers are also being considered as a viable option, but as hydrogen uses fossil fuels or electricity in its production, its long-term viability is far from proven. The next ten years will need to see a huge, national program of whole-house retro-fitting, whereby homes will need to be highly insulated to reduce their heat requirement to a minimum.
This is sure to open up more opportunities for low carbon technologies to heat homes as energy requirements will be lower. The Heating Hub believes the key is bringing in renewable heating technologies at a natural point of replacement and to concentrate on reducing heat requirement and making homes more energy efficient.
Transitioning to zero carbon boilers
The consumer website has analyzed the heating options available for a variety of property types and set out a roadmap for how each property could transition to zero carbon boilers.
2-3 bed mid-terrace Victorian house –
- 2020-2030: 300mm loft insulation, floor insulation, double or triple glazing and sealing doors/windows from drafts. Correctly set-up (hydrogen- ready) gas boiler with load or weather compensation controls to run at A-rated efficiencies.
- 2025-2035: External wall insulation for the whole terrace with mechanical heat recovery ventilation to prevent overheating. Solar PV panels (to create electricity) with battery storage and/or solar thermal panels either of which can be used to heat the home.
- 2035-2040: Replacement of gas boiler at the end of its natural life with standalone air source heat pump (space permitting) or a fully hydrogen boiler should the technology prove viable.
3-4 bed 1930s-1950s semi -
- 2020-2030: 300mm loft insulation, cavity wall insulation or external wall insulation with mechanical heat recovery ventilation, floor insulation (where the property has suspended timber floors), double or triple glazing and sealing doors/ windows from drafts. Correctly set-up (hydrogen ready) gas boiler with load or weather compensation controls to run at A-rated efficiencies.
- 2025-2035: Replacement of gas boiler at the end of its natural life with air source heat pump, solar PV panels (to create electricity) and/or solar thermal panels (to generate hot water).
4-5 bed detached or semi 2000 onwards -
- 2020-2030: Retrofit as necessary (some homes not built to A-rated standards), 300mm loft insulation, cavity wall insulation or external insulation, mechanical heat recovery ventilation and double or triple glazed windows and doors.
- 2025-2035: Air source heat pump, solar PV and/or solar thermal panels.
Blocks of flats -
- Flats will require a whole-block approach to insulation, with the costs most likely split between the freeholder and flat owner. Combined heat and power units that produce heating and electricity are a great option for decarbonizing heat.
- Alternatively, electric boilers can be used in some circumstances. While they are not classed as renewable, they do have the potential to run on 100% renewable electricity.
Solar panels with back-up electric immersion
One option to reduce emissions in the short term is to add hydrogen to our gas supplies and this is being tested"
For small UK homes, Jo hopes there is a simpler solution. He states, “I would hope that the heat requirement for smaller and older properties could be reduced sufficiently that an array of solar panels with a back-up electric immersion that uses renewably generated electricity. The reality is that the ‘silver bullet’ technology may not have been invented yet.”
Jo continues, “One option to reduce emissions in the short term is to add hydrogen to our gas supplies and this is being tested. New gas boilers that are setup to run efficiently on hydrogen mixes are a good short-term step to decarbonizing small, older homes, delivering net emissions reductions of around 10%. Furthermore, the existing gas grid can also be utilized for distribution, reducing expenditure on new infrastructure.”
Using hydrogen gas and renewable energy sources
Hydrogen gas is made by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, and renewable energy sources can be used to further reduce emissions. The gas can be mixed with natural gas and burnt in a similar way, releasing water without greenhouse gas emissions.
However, generating hydrogen is currently an energy intensive process and should be limited to homes that cannot accommodate a heat pump in the future.
Heat pumps offer many advantages over conventional gas boilers, as they work at high efficiencies and, if set up correctly, can generate 3-4 units of energy for every one unit of electricity they use. However, they are expensive to install and require space in the home for the heat pump unit and a hot water tank. The environmental cost of production of the heat pumps and shipping across the world must be factored into decision making.
Jo concludes, “New technologies will play a big part in reducing the UK’s emissions, but it is vital that the specification for any new boiler is appropriate to the household’s heating requirements. The options available to consumers are going to change dramatically over the coming years, as new technologies become more mainstream and widely deployed, and it is important that householders understand which option would best meet their requirements.”