The UK needs to reduce its long-standing reliance on fossil fuels for heating and hot water in our domestic and commercial buildings.
It is a vital part of the government's 2050 net-zero carbon target.
Using electricity for heating space and water is an increasingly attractive alternative to gas and oil.
This is mainly because the UK's electricity grid is becoming 'greener' year-on-year. According to Ofgem, in 2019, over half of the country's electricity came from renewable or low-carbon sources.
And during the recent lockdown period, the carbon intensity of electricity fell even further.
Business Green recently reported on research for energy company Drax, which showed that from April to June 2020, renewable electricity sources provided almost 70% of Britain’s electricity.
During that period, the carbon intensity of the grid fell to 153g of CO2 per hour – the lowest on record.
With this development for commercial applications, heat pumps are set for a strong future.
Still too much gas
However, making the switch to electric heating to date hasn’t been an easy option for many. We are very much reliant on gas for both domestic and non-domestic heating.
Currently, only around 4.5% of the energy used to heat our homes is from low-carbon sources. The government is tackling the issue head-on with legislation that will ban the installation of gas boilers in new homes from 2025.
Heat pumps offer a real alternative to the gas boiler.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) found that heat pumps can deliver 25 to 85 tCO2 savings per home over the 60-year lifetime of that dwelling.
A heat pump can also reduce carbon emissions by 90% over the lifetime, compared to one using gas as its primary heating source.
Domestic heat pumps are becoming an increasingly common technology – though, frankly, not common enough at this time to make a significant dent in our carbon emissions.
However, I think that as the housebuilders move away from their 'traditional' gas-based approach, and the sight of heat pumps in homes become more common, consumers will be more open to using the technology.
For commercial heating and hot water provision, one of the challenges to heat pump take-up has been that, while heat pumps are incredibly efficient for low-temperature heating, they have struggled to show the same levels of carbon savings when producing sanitary hot water.
A heating system for a hotel, for instance, might have relied on gas boilers to back up a heat pump at peak times.
A new approach is needed but thankfully technology doesn’t stand still.
As a manufacturer, Mitsubishi Electric has focused on this issue and has introduced the Ecodan QAHV, which supplies water from 55oC up to 90oC. It also uses CO2 as a refrigerant – which has a GWP of just 1 (GWP, or the global warming potential is the figure given to a refrigerant showing the harm that it could potentially cause when compared to carbon dioxide).
Consequently, a hotel, hospital or university accommodation project could now easily switch entirely to electric heat pump technology.
This heralds a revolution in the options available for specifiers who want to avoid fossil fuels – while lowering their carbon footprint and being more energy-efficient.
Into the future
I think that with this sort of development in technology for commercial applications, and greater consumer familiarity, heat pumps are set for a strong future.
We are already seeing signs of accelerating adoption. Government figures up to the end of 2019 show a 57% increase in installations of air source heat pumps over the previous 12 months.
Heat pumps are also now the leading technology behind applications to the RHI up to the end of 2019.
Welcome to the heating revolution!
Tom Hall is Corporate Solutions Business Development Manager