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Building owners can achieve sustainable buildings by looking at their heating and investing in heat pumps

The year 2019 was a landmark moment on the road to net zero when the UK passed laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

To achieve that goal, the owners and facilities managers of commercial buildings now face increasingly tough standards and legislation that they need to meet to ensure they prioritise carbon reduction.

However, these challenges also provide a great opportunity for building owners to invest in lower carbon building services technologies, while also embracing new approaches to both the design and operation of their buildings.

One area of immediate focus when it comes to reducing the carbon impact of a building must be the heating, as how we heat buildings and generate hot water is a significant contributor to carbon emissions.

In fact, heating creates almost a third (32%) of the total carbon emissions in the UK.

Modern heat pump technology is now available to help reduce these emissions and heat commercial buildings in a more sustainable, energy efficient way.

So, what benefits can heat pumps offer, and how can building managers be sure that they are the right solution for a commercial space?

Heat pumps are becoming the first choice for building managers planning renovations

James Chaplen James Chaplen Senior Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric

Existing regulations

There are already regulations in place to help reach net-zero, including the Climate Change Act back in 2008 to the more recent Green Growth Strategy in 2017.

With commercial buildings in mind, there is also legislation that focuses on how heat is provided to these spaces – and these need to be considered when investing in heating technology.

Part L of the Building Regulations states that non-domestic buildings should be moving to low-carbon heat sources, the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards means it’s illegal to let any property with EPC rating of less than band ‘E’, and the Non-Domestic RHI has been extended until 2022, in order to help overcome barriers to investing in renewable heating.

There is also growing interest in embodied carbon in commercial buildings, as well as the amount of carbon produced by a building across its whole lifecycle.

When looking at carbon impact, building managers must consider the full environmental cost of the extraction, processing, manufacture, delivery and assembly of every single product or material used.

Accounting for all of these factors may seem like a lot, but it’s also evidence that focusing on renewable heating now is the best way to future-proof commercial buildings for years to come.

The solution is heat pump technology

Heat pumps are central to decarbonising. In fact, the Carbon Trust has found  that heat pumps have the potential to deliver CO2 savings of up to 70% compared to conventional electric heating, and up to 65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler.

The government has also set a target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2030, and the Committee on Climate Change estimate that 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed by 2050 to achieve the net zero goal.

To reach this goal, maintaining the momentum of heat pump uptake is critical.  As well as offering renewable heating, heat pumps allow for a reduction in running costs and increased efficiencies.

They are also becoming the first choice for building managers planning renovations because they are designed for both retrofit and new build, are easy to design and install, and are scalable to work with other systems.

This means they’re a suitable solution for almost any space – and are even able to work alongside existing heating systems in a hybrid situation if required.

Choosing the right heat pump

A heat pump is the ideal solution for commercial buildings, but it’s important to find the right one for the job.

Since heat pumps first came onto the market, the choice and range has expanded significantly, and building owners are now able to select exactly the right equipment for a building’s requirements.

For example, heat pumps can now work at higher temperatures, so have become a great option for spaces like hotels, hospitals, and leisure centres where there is a high demand for hot water at peak times, removing the need for a gas boiler.

Mixed use buildings

Mixed use buildings are also becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and they can benefit from heat pumps.

Buildings which combine residential homes and commercial businesses will have a wide variety of heating and cooling requirements, and traditionally gas boilers, combined heat and power systems or electric water heating have met that need.

Now, high temperature heat pumps – like the 40kW Ecodan QAHV – can deliver hot water up to 90°C, and support helping businesses to increase the efficiency of hot water production while cutting their carbon footprint.

Other heat pumps offer options for a modular approach, so that multiple devices can operate in one system.

This means that the multiple unit system can cascade available units on and off, to meet the required load of a building. It also means heat pump installations are scalable, and can work for a small doctors surgery through to entire district heating projects.

Modern heat pumps can also be applied in buildings alongside other technologies, and boost the renewable element of a project – reducing the requirement for heat energy.

Avoiding stranded assets

It is now imperative for everyone to prioritise investing in renewable technology and helping to reach net-zero.

For those in the building services industry, there is a real opportunity to lead the way and encourage clients to take a new and more environmentally friendly approach to heating in commercial buildings.

The heating equipment we install today will be in a building for at least a decade, so installing a heating system based on fossil fuels might risk leaving the building as a ‘stranded asset’ in the future.

Embracing renewable heating will help ensure buildings are meeting efficient and environmental standards for years to come.

James Chaplen is Senior Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric