Will the outcomes of COP26 significantly speed up the uptake of low carbon technologies?

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We are all waiting to see what the real impact will be from the climate summit COP26 for the construction sector, specifically with regard to the decarbonisation of heat. One of the insights that came out of the second day of the summit, which featured a session on clean technology and innovation, was delivered by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson:

‘By making clean technology the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice, the default go-to in what are currently the most polluting sectors, we can cut emissions right around the world’.

We already know that construction and heat generation are placed in that bracket. The built environment accounts for approximately 40% of UK carbon emissions. According to Catapult, 17% of UK carbon emissions comes from heating with 13-14% attributed to domestic heat. Hot water accounts for a further 4%. According to The Carbon Footprint of Heat Generation, in 2015 88% of all domestic space heating and hot water in the UK came from fossil fuelled boilers. If we are to deliver on our commitment to net zero carbon emissions, we will need to eliminate fossil fuels from heating altogether.

The Future Homes Standard was a first step indicating how the UK aims to achieve this. It includes a ban on the installation of new gas boilers into new build properties by 2025 but the legislation has not yet been fully introduced. Phasing out the installation of gas boilers in retrofit by 2030 is a large step in the right direction but has been announced in the Heat and Buildings Strategy as ‘an ambition’. There is, however, a certain level of uncertainty. Is the heat pump market ready for the scale of installations? Is our housing stock ready for low carbon solutions? Are low carbon solutions, insulation and energy efficiency improvement affordable?

How do we overcome the challenge of accessibility and affordability of low carbon solutions?

Glasgow Breakthroughs, backed and signed by 40 world leaders from every region, representing 70% of world economies, formulated an international plan to make low carbon technologies more accessible and affordable by 2030. It also pledged to focus on accelerating research and innovation and explore clean hydrogen as a feasible future alternative to fossil fuels. It included a promise to find the necessary investment to grow the heat pump and low carbon technology market.

In the UK, the affordability and accessibility of heat pumps remains a challenge. The £3.9 billion funding detailed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy and the promise to create 175,000 skilled jobs in the low carbon technology sector by 2030 aims to partly bridge the gap. The announcement that the cost of heat pumps should by 2030 be comparable with gas boilers should do the rest. 2050 is fast approaching, however, and to keep the effort of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive we should look at routes to decarbonisation available today. Innovation towards these targets is critical, with many small contributions needed from right across the technology spectrum. An example of this is hot water heat pumps, which offer a route to decarbonise domestic hot water production due to their exceptional efficiency and ease of application.

What are hybrid electric solutions? How affordable and how efficient are they?

Hot water heat pump-based hybrid electric solutions utilise air source heat pumps which are integrated into a single unit with a hot water cylinder. The heat pump draws air via an external ducting system and converts the collected energy into heat that is transferred to the water in the cylinder. Hot water often represents the highest energy demand in a modern home, and so the carbon emission of a household can be significantly reduced with a hot water heat pump. The space heating provision in well insulated homes can then be efficiently supplied by new generation of direct acting panel heaters.

An example of effective hybrid electric heating is the Edel hot water heat pump by Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation (GDHV). This hot water heat pump has a coefficient of performance (COP) of around 3.36. Modern condensing boilers achieve a maximum COP of only 0.9 and some older models have a COP that is significantly lower.

The most frequently asked questions when we talk about heat pumps are: how expensive are they? and how difficult, and costly, will they be to fit?

The cost of the Edel hot water heat pump is not prohibitive, it is in fact comparable to that of a gas boiler. Compared to other low carbon solutions, hot water heat pumps are easier to fit and do not require specialist installers.

Hybrid electric solutions combine hot water heat pumps with direct heating panels heaters. Modern electric technologies, such as the range by GDHV, are incredibly accurate and controllable, and 100% efficient at the point of use. These units are affordable and feature many smart energy saving features that help to keep electricity usage low. In some retrofit specifications, it is more appropriate to select high heat retention storage heaters, where higher space heating loads can make use of energy storage from low-cost energy tariffs.

Why are hybrid electric solutions a route to decarbonisation?

We already know that we need to reduce the carbon emissions of household heat generation by 95% to reach the 2050 target. A hybrid electric system, like one that combines the Edel hot water heat pump with panel heaters, is a future proof technology for today. These systems are installed in developments across the UK and successfully delivering all space and water heating requirements using only electricity. This is significant for the carbon footprint of heat in residential properties when we look at the decreasing carbon factor of the electricity grid in the UK.

SAP 10.1 introduced a new grid carbon factor for electricity of .136 versus .210 for gas to reflect our transition from coal fired power stations towards electricity generated by carbon free sources such as wind, nuclear and solar. The electricity carbon factor will continue to decrease as we decarbonise the grid further, which mean the carbon footprint of electrified solutions will reduce over time, further increasing the benefit of electric heating solutions.

The SAP10 calculation can also be translated into how many grams of CO2 are emitted per kWh of heat generated. Electricity stands at 136 g with gas at 210g. This should be considered along with the significantly higher efficiency of hybrid electric heating systems when compared to traditional gas boilers. As we all combine our efforts to tackle climate change, hybrid electric heating systems are one of the innovations that can get us a step closer.

To discuss hybrid electric heating systems and how they can help reduce the carbon footprint of your development, speak with one of our HVAC experts today.