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Rob Leonard Sep 5, 2023 5:20:14 PM 6 min read

What are the main barriers to decarbonisation of heat


Heat-Pumps-Blog-BannerDecarbonisation is currently on everybody’s radar, with new solutions hitting the market thick and fast. “In previous years, the industry has waited until the eleventh hour to adapt. However, this time it is being far more proactive in trialling a variety of solutions – which is incredibly positive,” says Rob. Nonetheless, he highlights that there are still obstacles to overcome whichever solution you consider.

A properly specified, installed and commissioned heat pump can produce around three times the amount of heat for the amount of energy used, so they can have a significant impact on lowering a property’s carbon footprint. However, there are a number of areas to consider with regards to heat pump installation: “There is a common misconception that heat pumps will save you money – and quite often they do – but that’s not always necessarily the case,” Rob explains. “Firstly, the installation is more expensive than a boiler. In an existing home it can cost anywhere between £8,500 and £13,000 to install a heat pump; however, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme grant of up to £6,000 is available to help with that. Also, a heat pump operates most efficiently at a lower temperature regime than a boiler so changes to existing radiators and pipework may also be necessary.

Effective heat pump use

Rob suggests that heat pumps can technically be used in any property although a house with good insulation values would ensure the system runs most effectively. “There also needs to be sufficient space to locate the necessary indoor and outdoor equipment, particularly when swapping out a combi boiler, as a location is needed for the now necessary hot water storage cylinder.

“An accurate room by room heat loss calculation is also needed to ascertain what (if any) radiators need upgrading and whether the existing pipework is sufficient in diameter. While it might be the right solution for many households, heat pumps aren’t going to work for everyone – there are too many factors at play.”

In addition to this, Rob highlights the training that needs to be undertaken on both the installation, servicing and commissioning of heat pumps as well as low-temperature heating design. Compared with a traditional boiler, a heat pump operates at a lower temperature than a boiler typically would and therefore it can take longer to deliver the desired comfort levels. For homeowners or residents who have not been taught how to properly optimise their solution, problems can occur.

“There are differing opinions on the most appropriate way to control a full heat pump system. One of the most regularly specified is the use of an external weather sensor that informs the system of the outside temperature and selects the operating regime best suited to achieve the desired comfort levels. Typically, this would operate in tandem with an internal temperature controller that has the ability to offer a setback temperature where the system is run at a higher temperature during occupational periods and a lower temperature throughout the night.” This setup might be quite different to the user’s previous boiler fed system, so to avoid problems, it is crucial that users are educated on how to use new heating systems, Rob urges. Simply installing the product is not enough.

Hydrogen heating

A hydrogen boiler is another solution being considered for many homeowners and landlords looking to decarbonise their heating. From a sustainability perspective, green hydrogen ticks all the boxes as it is produced by splitting water through electrolysis, a process powered using renewable energy sources, resulting in zero carbon emissions. “A number of trials have been taking place around the country to prove the concept with further, larger trials planned in Scotland, the North West and the North East of England that include as many as 2,000 homes being run from a hydrogen gas grid conversion.”

Hydrogen-ready boilers are another concept that the Government is proposing to mandate from around 2026. “These are boilers can be connected to the natural gas grid and run on natural gas throughout their life if necessary. Should hydrogen become available in the area they are located a simple conversion of the appliance is undertaken and in less than an hour the boiler is running on 100%, carbon free hydrogen.”

Rob highlights that it is likely that a blended hydrogen approach will be the first realistic move towards hydrogen decarbonisation: “Trials have taken place at Keele University on around 140 homes – and a further ongoing trial of 668 homes in Winlaton in Gateshead – where 20% hydrogen was injected into the natural gas grid. The homes were all using existing gas boilers and cookers which had been tested in their development on a blend of hydrogen. As expected, all appliances performed to design with the added benefit of a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions.”

District heating

Heat networks can distribute heat or cooling from a central source and deliver it to a variety of customers in different buildings. As such, they avoid the need for individual boilers or electric heaters in homes. They have a low carbon footprint because they can use local sources of low carbon heat that would otherwise go to waste.

Rob believes that these will play a very important role, particularly in tower blocks: “Many multi occupancy buildings or close density housing units are ideal for Heat Interface Units connected to a District Heating Zone. The Government has set an ambition that by 2050, 20% of all heating in homes will come from a District Heating System.”

Decarbonisation challenges

While there are a number of viable solutions that will help heating to decarbonise, the obstacles cannot be ignored. “The higher cost of many of these solutions will have a significant impact on demand, especially at the present moment where the cost of living is so high.”

Another problem is that at present, the government isn’t mandating any of these options. “They need to make a decision,” argues Rob. “They are looking for a silver bullet solution but that is impossible due to the diversity of the housing stock. For example, a parent with a small child is likely to spend more hours at home than someone who lives by themselves and is going out to work every day – they will have different heating requirements and therefore need different solutions.”

Rob also raises a third issue, the success of solutions past. “Over the last fifty years, we have created excellent heating solutions like the combi boiler, which is highly efficient and can provide heating and hot water pretty much instantly. Unfortunately, many of the sustainable solutions currently on the market, with the exception of Hydrogen Ready boilers, cannot provide the same usability, therefore consumers will need educating on the differences in their behaviour and habits they will need to adapt to.

Education is key

Education is vital to tackling many of these obstacles – the more people are educated on present and future solutions, the easier it will be to optimise them. Consequently, Worcester Bosch regularly hosts an event, titled ‘The Future of Heating’ which is attended by specifiers, company clients, and apprentices. “We offer presentations on the different products that are out there, including heat networks, heat pumps and hydrogen and try to provide a non-biased overview, so that current and future specifiers will have a better understanding of present future solutions.”

Worcester Bosch is also trialling a number of hydrogen boilers around the UK – even though the government hasn’t yet mandated it – as well as investing in both heat pump and hybrid heat pump solutions. What’s more, it will soon be introducing a number of new heat pump products to the market, with at least three launch dates set for this year.

“We’re certainly firmly in the race to try and help the UK to decarbonise; but, to achieve this, a combination of solutions will be required and that is something we are trying to provide through our diverse portfolio of products and services.

“Heat pumps alone will not solve all of the issues – I think hydrogen will be needed as well. Of course, we will need to find a way to produce green hydrogen more efficiently and on a larger scale, we’ll then be well on our way to decarbonisation.”