Training for the transition to low carbon

With the general agreement that heating systems need to be decarbonised as much as possible, engineers will need to be up to the task and capable of considering factors such as U-values, heat emitter size, and correct appliance specification. Here, Martyn Bridges, director of technical communication and project management at Worcester Bosch, explains the training required as industry works to decarbonise the UK’s heating systems

Martyn Bridges, director of technical communication and product management

The heating industry seems to be all on board with the UK’s decarbonisation targets. Even with recent events, many industry bodies, charities and organisations are keeping these goals front of mind by calling on government to ensure that the UK has a ‘green recovery’ to the COVID-19 crisis. A topic that has been explored in depth is the technology best suited on the route to decarbonisation. This has caused some disagreements across the board. As a manufacturer of multiple technologies, we are in no great defence of any, however one conclusion that us within the industry and those in government can all agree on is that any heating source, be it a variation of heat pump or a condensing boiler, would benefit from an energy efficiency perspective if it is running at low temperatures. This has led the industry to believe that training must be formed on low-carbon heating design.

What does the training include?

Those within the industry – manufacturers, installers, trade bodies and the like – have come up with the concept of designing a course for heating engineers on how to design and size a heating system to run off low temperatures. This will help installers to refresh their memory, or to educate them if they’ve never had to do it before. The training is rather impartial, it’s quite agnostic of technology. It shows how to accurately measure the heat loss of the rooms, taking into account the U values of the certain elements of the walls, windows, floors, air change rates of these said rooms and how the installer could then size radiators and pipework or underfloor heating to operate at these lower temperatures.

Now, of course this is very suitable for homes where the home is perhaps brand new and the entire heating system is going in, or for a quite extensive renovation where an existing home is having a new heating system fitted in its entirety. However quite often it is the case that the existing heating system remains in place, it’s just the boiler that’s changed. Regardless, this training will at least equip the installer with the skills needed to ascertain whether the existing heating system is capable of running on lower temperatures or not. It may well be that it is not, and the homeowner says, ‘well I am not going to change anything other than the boiler’, in which case the boiler might be the most suitable replacement technology.

In some situations, the decision won’t be so straightforward. This is where the training will come in handy. For example, it may well be that the radiators were sized 30 or 40 years ago and they’re very clean and in good condition, yet the house has received a number of improvements to the insulation. It may have had cavity wall insulation, floor or roof insulation, or triple glazing. So, we may well find that the radiators are actually far larger than are needed to be and can therefore operate quite successfully on a low flow temperature. In these cases, a heat pump or a condensing boiler running at low temperatures might be just what the customer wants. So, the plan is to equip the engineer with the skills to make these decisions and the aims so there will be digital aids to enable them to measure the rooms.

How will it work?

We have seen the importance of digital learning in recent months. With this in mind, there is an app being created which will have all the elements on it and tools required to undertake elements of the training but perhaps more importantly to undertake the actual task on site. Hypothetically, the installer will undertake this course as part of their core competence training. So, every installer would probably have to do this one day and then they choose the technology that they are intending to install, for example heat pumps or boilers.

The next step would then be to take a training course or qualification on the heat source. What is great is that the installer will go into that course equipped with the skills already to know how to size a low temperature heating system to suit that technology.

When you think about it, it isn’t too dissimilar to gas today. Currently, if you are working on gas, you have to take the basic gas safety qualifications and then one of a number of qualifications on the technology you intend to install. It could be cookers, fires, warm air heaters, boilers, so on and so forth. So really, it’s much the same as that. We are going to have the engineer or installer holding qualifications on core competencies like low temperature heated systems and then they select which other courses they want to take a qualification in.

What lies ahead?

This has been well-accepted by the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, BEIS. In fact, at the time of writing this, they issued a survey very recently requesting installers’ thoughts on this direction. Unsurprisingly, the majority agreed.

So, as we move through the decades and heating systems are inevitably replaced in every home, it is safe to say that these will be of a low-temperature sort. This is likely because as we have said time and time again, you must make homes ready for heat pumps, or for any low carbon technology. There are probably too many homes only suitable for the installation of a high temperature boiler and that’s not what the government really requires. Quite rightly, they want a choice of technologies. Implementing new training will help support this.

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