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Sustainability is top of the agenda for the entire heating industry and with that will come change for professionals in the sector. Jeff House from Baxi outlines the latest aspects heating engineers need to know when it comes to technologies and their role in the future heating mix.
Since 2019, when the UK government set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from across the UK economy by 2050, decarbonisation strategies and renewed sustainability targets continue to be made. Now, at the time of writing this article, the industry eagerly awaits the BEIS Heat in Buildings Strategy. This will add detail on how the committed emissions reductions will be delivered in respect to heat. For instance, how to meet revised targets confirmed in 2021 to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. The overall goal will be to outline the key steps required to make these key decisions on heat decarbonisation in the 2020s.
For heating engineers working in the domestic heating market, what we know so far is that there are a few different possible solutions to help transition the existing housing stock from natural gas to low carbon alternatives. This includes heat pumps and hydrogen-ready appliances like boilers.
One option for decarbonising heating systems in homes across the UK are heat pumps. While heat pumps are clearly set to play a key role in new build homes thanks to the Future Homes Standard, proposed to come into effect in 2025, there is significant potential for homeowners to adopt a heat pump as a retrofit solution, especially for homes not connected to the gas grid.
Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) can efficiently heat a home using electricity instead of natural gas. However, a lack of heat pump qualified installers is a key concern for the industry, which could halt progress to reach targets. With this in mind, we’re committed at Baxi to ramping up renewables training for installers over the coming years, with ASHPs a key focus.
Another potential challenge facing the domestic market is the added work involved in the retrofitting of heat pumps. This includes the work involved to bolster insulation, which could be too disruptive for some households. A hot water cylinder would also be a requirement.
One solution to these initial challenges is the concept of hybrid heat pump and gas boilers. Much like a hybrid car, the electric heat pump is supported by a natural gas boiler when required. A hybrid ASHP and boiler system provides increased energy efficiency and reduced emissions, with less disruption than an ASHP alone.
As a result, these hybrid systems could be a bridging solution to help reduce emissions in homes across the UK, while other technologies are being researched and perfected. In fact, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have identified hybrid systems as a key measure to achieving reduced emissions and have been pushing for their immediate implementation.
For the decarbonisation of the existing gas grid, hydrogen is currently being investigated as a low carbon alternative to natural gas. Currently this technology is still in the demonstration phase, and so is not currently available as an option for homeowners. However, companies like Baxi are at the forefront of the research and development to make hydrogen a reality.
One of the more recent examples of this is a project that we have been working on with Northern Gas Networks (NGN), which is the first hydrogen home demonstration, which will be open to the public. Through these kinds of projects, the government, distribution network companies, and manufacturers are hoping to make hydrogen a reality as a low carbon option alongside heat pumps.
For homes across the UK, this could mean, with just a few component changes and minimal disruption, boilers that are ‘hydrogen ready’ could run with this low carbon fuel. Hydrogen boilers would be much like their traditional natural gas counterparts in appearance and installation. This means that homeowners would have a familiar heating setup to meet their requirements. Because of this, Gas Safe registered heating engineers across the UK should only require a small amount of additional training and certification to be able to install hydrogen boilers.
It is clear from the array of options available that there will be multiple ways of decarbonising the nation’s buildings. At Baxi our sustainability pledge outlines how the business is committed to not only develop the low carbon product solutions needed, but that we will also support professionals on this journey.
For the domestic sector, the opportunity for those who upskill in low carbon technologies is considerable, and the support of manufacturers will be important to help professionals with product training. As part of this, more renewables training from Baxi is in development, which is designed to support professionals on the road to net zero.