A year of renewable progress

In a year that saw the Heat and Buildings Strategy released, research projects develop and COP26 take place, Jeff House, head of external affairs at Baxi Heating looks back at the progress made in the heating sector.

Policy Landscape

Following disruptions and delays due to the pandemic, 2021 has been a year for policy development and the sustainability drive in the heating industry has moved to centre stage. A pivotal aspect of progression being made is the UK’s Hydrogen strategy, which details the role and vision for clean hydrogen deployment at scale in the UK, including its use as an energy source for low carbon heating, transport, and industry.

Arguably the most awaited and important policy update of this year, the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy outlined proposals and key future decision points on the journey to net-zero for our building stock. Partly addressing the key concern around the cost of some technologies, a near term part of the strategy was the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, designed to encourage the uptake of heat pumps by offering a £5000 grant to households, albeit with only sufficient funding for around 30,000 installations per year from 2022-25.

Reflecting on the strategy, the implications of increased running costs for end users is an element that still appears to need more focus and detail. By switching to electricity for heating, annual running costs for an ASHP are estimated to be, on average, £236 more than a gas boiler on a ‘like for like’ basis, according to Baxi’s recent report on affordable heat decarbonisation. To help tackle this, we have suggested that the introduction of a ‘Green Heating Credit’, which would give heat pump owners £250 a year to close the gap in running costs, would be a good idea and perhaps more equitable than shifting levy costs from gas to electricity bills as currently proposed.

Hydrogen progress

As part of its low carbon heat research, Baxi has also been involved with a number of hydrogen technology projects this year, to progress the viability of hydrogen heat ahead of further strategy launches.

In August, we installed one of our hydrogen boilers in the nation’s first 100% hydrogen home demonstration – ‘Hy Grove’ in Low Thornley – just outside of Gateshead. Two semi-detached show homes were built for this, by the BEIS, in partnership with gas distribution network companies Cadent and Northern Gas Networks. This public project aims to demonstrate the viability of hydrogen-fuelled appliances in real-world applications, all the while progressing this technology as a suitable means for heating UK homes on the gas grid.

This project, in addition to others such as HyDeploy, HyNet and Hy4Heat, is testament to the investment within the industry to continue exploring the role of hydrogen as a means of decarbonisation in the future heat mix. In addition to ASHPs in homes where they are suitable, the switch to low carbon heating sources must limit disruption to homeowners and installers. This is why Baxi, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and other stakeholders, have agreed to mandate that all boiler sales from the mid-2020’s should be of hydrogen-ready units. This move would serve to pre-populate a swathe of the housing stock ready for conversion in the future, limiting the impact to homeowners.

What’s next?

The challenge that remains across the entire future heating mix is the installation question – who is going to be installing all of these new appliances? Particularly in the case of heat pumps, training and time spent away from work to acquire new certifications comes at a price, which is often shouldered by installers.

With legislative targets for heat pump installations looming and suppliers gearing up for higher volumes of new technologies, it is the Government’s responsibility to set policy, and support manufacturers to ensure a vital network of professionals are ready to support this movement. After all, heating engineers make the decisions on which heating solution to select on behalf of millions of homes and businesses across the UK.

In order to bring heating engineers on side, it is up to manufacturers like Baxi to ensure professionals are supported throughout the transition. This goes beyond supplying the solutions themselves. Robust training programmes for new technologies, such as heat pumps, hydrogen appliances and other low carbon solutions, must be readily available, so we are working to create training programmes to advise and support heating engineers, enabling them to diversify their portfolio and keep up with the changes brought about by low carbon development.

It still remains to be seen if the running costs to homeowners will be better addressed, but if we are tackling the skills agenda, and continuing to demonstrate technology to answer the hydrogen question, we should be able to drive forward progress in the low carbon heating race. We look forward to seeing what 2022 brings and is committed to ensuring the industry can keep up with development.

For more information, visit: www.baxiheating.co.uk/sustainability

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