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UK needs to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 to meet net-zero

Under the original Climate Change Act, the UK pledged to cut net emissions by 80% by 2050. Now, it will need to deliver a 78% reduction by 2035 if it is to meet its long-term net-zero commitment. That is according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which has published its Sixth Carbon Budget for the period between 2033 and 2037.

The CCC described the budget as the toughest yet with chief executive Chris Stark saying that the UK will need to decarbonise at a faster pace in the next 30 years if the net-zero target is to be met. Stark explained that the Committee has deliberately opted to ‘front-load’ decarbonisation – more will need to happen in the 2020s and the earlier half of the Sixth Carbon Budget period than in the latter half and the 2040s. Heat, and the broader decarbonisation of buildings, is one of the major priorities identified by the CCC which has based its calculations on a scenario in which 40% of the emissions reductions needed will be delivered using pure-technology solutions.

The new recommendations will see heat supply drastically transformed from its current reliance on natural gas if the country is to decarbonise all aspects of the UK’s infrastructure and economy. The budget has set a mandate for fossil fuel boiler installations to end across the UK entirely from 2033, with fossil fuels phased-out from heating in public buildings by 2025 and in commercial buildings by the following year. It added that these stricter targets to phase out higher-carbon technologies in public buildings would also support a government aim of realising a 50% reduction in emissions by 2032. The 2033 date has been set to take account of the typical 15-year turnover of boiler stock, while also allowing for the scaling-up of supply chains to deploy heat pumps at a mass scale.

The recommendations aim for 37 per cent of public and commercial heat demand to be met by lower-carbon sources as of 2030.  According to the CCC, heat pumps should cater for 65% of the predicted need, 32% of heat should be provided by district heating systems, whether low or high-temperature supply, with a further 3% from biomass by the end of the current decade. By 2050, CCC estimates that 52% of heat demand should be met by heat pumps, 42% from district heat, with hydrogen boilers covering the remaining 5% of national demand.

One caveat, however, was that since the dates operate alongside the deployment of low-carbon heat networks and planned regional rollouts of hydrogen conversion of the gas grid, the phase-out outlined may not apply in any areas designated for these alternatives. This makes a nod to a net-zero that derives balance between pure hydrogen systems and electrification, both delivering decarbonisation of heating. It also highlights the danger of supporting one technology and ignoring another when the pace of development is so much steeper and will continue to be so as we move towards 2050. To this end, the CCC is using what it describes as a ‘balanced pathway’ scenario upon which to base its calculations and that its delivery will require ‘systems change’ and a ‘whole economy approach’ to decisively meet the UK’s legal target of fully eliminating and offsetting carbon emissions by 2050.  Under this ‘decisive’ decarbonisation plan, the CCC has warned that a sizable majority of change must be made within 15 years.

Talk to Adveco about how we can help you create more sustainable heating and hot water applications for your buildings.

Making ASHP Work For Commercial Applications – Part 2

The Hybrid Approach

In part one, we considered the challenges and limitations of an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) only system, with particular focus on the problems commercial organisations faced when retrofitting existing properties with new heating and hot water applications. In this concluding part, we look at the advantages of adopting a hybrid system approach based on ASHP technology…

A hybrid approach where an ASHP is deployed in a packaged combination with a gas boiler and control system presents an attractive alternative, retaining the element of gas boiler technology that customers are comfortable with. Plus, it also offers better compatibility with existing heating distribution systems and thermal demands of higher heat loss buildings meaning less adaptation is required. There are also technical advantages, such as the ability to optimise heat pump efficiency and switching to the gas boiler at times of network peak.

The facility of two heat sources to meet the demands for space heating and/or hot water is especially relevant for the commercial sector where bespoke system design is often required to meet the particular needs of a project, such as applications with a high heat loss. In this case, the gas boiler can be operated to meet peak demands on the coldest days, allowing the heat pump to be reduced in size compared to the capacity of a pure electric heat pump system.

Installing a heat pump alongside an existing gas boiler, together with a control system also makes sense in retrofit installations, especially, in applications where a relatively new boiler has been installed, which should be highly efficient, and which can be retained for peak heating loads. The key challenge technically is to ensure that the control system for the ASHP and existing boiler operate together efficiently.

In such cases, given that the ASHP does not replace an existing heating system, the driver for installing the system is largely to reduce running costs and make quick gains towards improving environmental performance.

Hybrid systems based around an ASHP are likely to require some system refurbishment in many retrofit installations in order to ensure that a substantial proportion of the annual demand is met by the heat pump (though this is likely to be lower than a pure electric system). Even so, when including the cost of a gas boiler replacement, the cost of refurbishing heating systems for the installation of a hybrid system should be lower than in the case of a single heat pump system. This is due to the reduced heat pump capacity requirement since the boiler can provide higher flow temperatures to meet peak heat demands. When comparing the cost of a heating system refurbishment opting to install a hybrid system versus a ‘pure’ ASHP system a reduction in comparative costs of as much as 50% could be achieved (Source: Frontier Economics).

Once installed, levels of carbon savings are generally slightly higher when allowing for hybrid solutions – suggesting that up until 2030 hybrid solutions could be consistent with meeting carbon targets. Although the average cost-effectiveness of carbon abatement is somewhat lower than in the scenarios which exclude hybrids. These savings are estimated based on comparison with a standalone ASHP, assuming that a hybrid system will use a smaller heat pump with a capacity reduced by as much as one third. For a hybrid ASHP system, expectations will be for the heat pump to meet as much as 75% of the annual heat load, the remainder being met by a gas boiler. This delivers similar operating costs and comparable CO and CO₂ savings at current grid carbon intensity (the reduced heat pump coverage of the overall thermal demand can be compensated by the ability to run the heat pump at closer to optimum efficiency).

Whilst the long-term use of hybrid systems may be perceived as not fully consistent with meeting carbon targets and they can equally be limited by space requirements and noise issues that also affect standalone ASHP installation, there remains a strong argument for their use across the commercial sector.

In the long term, hybrid systems should fall behind pure electric systems in terms of carbon benefits as the grid decarbonises and may become less cost-effective if volumes of gas supplied for the heating drop. But looking out to 2050, innovations in the provision of hydrogen and green gas, using extant infrastructure which currently supports 85% of UK heating, means hybrid systems may prove to be a defining low carbon option. One that provides the means to support the very particular, practical needs of the commercial market with versatile, cost-effective systems, all without sacrificing the drive to lower emissions as part of the process of achieving net-zero.

Read about Adveco’s compact commercial FPi ASHP range and prefabricated packaged systems for a hybrid approach.

Now Is The Time To Agree A Low Carbon Obligation

Hydrogen presents the UK with a clear opportunity to become one of the first nations to integrate this clean energy on a national scale, according to a recent All Part Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on the application of the gas. Produced primarily by electrolysis of water or by reforming methane, where the carbon dioxide generated can be captured and stored, hydrogen can be combusted in a way that produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

Jacob Young, MP, commented,

“The UK Government was the first world leader to boldly establish a 2050 net-zero carbon target, but our ambitions will be unachievable without embracing hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The longer we wait to develop our hydrogen strategy, the more difficult achieving net-zero becomes. We believe that hydrogen is the solution to decarbonisation.”

Amongst a list of recommendations, the report sets out several key requirements to establish a working timeline for the delivering of a hydrogen infrastructure that can enable the UK to achieve net-zero by 2050.

The first is to invest in developing the first Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) network by 2025, in line with the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment. The Government made new commitments to that process last month with a new £350 million package targeting carbon emissions from the construction, transport and heavy industry sectors, which in part will support CCS development.

Critically, the report also recommends establishing interim targets for low-carbon hydrogen production to be set by 2030. Alongside this would be the introduction of a Low Carbon Obligation which would be critical in the enabling investment in low carbon forms of heating such as hydrogen, as well as heat pumps and hybrid systems.

In terms of hydrogen research and development, the UK has been taking the lead with trial projects like HyDeploy and Hy4Heat, which bodes well for a smoother transfer to low-carbon hydrogen-based heating, essential for a dependable and affordable future energy mix. Despite this, the Government has yet to clarify its stance for the commercial sector. A notable failure to show support for hybrid systems is particularly vexing, as these systems must be recognised as a bridging mechanism for commercial organisations awaiting the roll-out of hydrogen. This is why the introduction of a Low Carbon Obligation, as proposed by the report, is so important.

Truly ‘Green Hydrogen,’ is produced by electrolysis using renewable electricity, but currently, neither solar nor wind power have the existing infrastructure for large-scale green hydrogen production to work. As a result, ‘Blue Hydrogen’, which takes carbon dioxide from the hydrogen making process and uses carbon capture and storage (CCS) to contain this, while not fully green, is a “leaner” version that is the first step in a new direction for national gas deployment for heating purposes. Using CCS technology should still allow for the capture up to 95% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in energy generation, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and damaging the environment.

The report recognises the important role that Blue Hydrogen projects play in supporting the reduction of carbon emissions in the immediate future.  The hope is that if the Government shows active support for, and promotes Blue Hydrogen as a valid steppingstone, it will also have to recognise and support not only heat pumps, but also hybrid solutions. Hybrid systems represent a necessary and realistic route for the commercial sector which otherwise faces a continued lack of clarity that will inherently lead to considerable additional refurbishment costs as they shift find themselves coerced into shifting from one preferred ‘green’ technology to the next, and possibly back again, over the coming 15 to 20 years.

The commercial built environment remains a considerable factor in the generation of carbon emissions in the UK. Improved clarity and guidance from the Government has to come further up the agenda, and sooner rather than later, if organisations are to embrace and actively support development within new and existing buildings that will contribute to attaining net-zero by 2050.

UK Government Makes New £350m Commitment to Decarbonisation

  • Support targets construction, transport and heavy industry sectors
  • Includes dedicated funding for green hydrogen.

The Government has announced a £350 million package targeting carbon emissions from the construction, transport and heavy industry sectors in an effort to reach net-zero by 2050.

“Climate change is among the greatest challenges of our age. To tackle it we need to unleash innovation in businesses across the country,”

said Alok Sharma, business and energy secretary.

“This funding will reduce emissions, create green-collar jobs and fuel a strong, clean economic recovery – all essential to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”

The projects set to receive funding will work on developing new technologies that could help companies switch to more energy-efficient means of production, use data more effectively to tackle the impacts of climate change and help support the creation of new green jobs by driving innovation and growth in UK industries.

The investment comes after the Committee on Climate Changes 2020 Progress Report argued that for industry, electricity and hydrogen production and CCS should all be considered as pathways for decarbonisation, and a funding mechanism established for the chosen technologies before the end of 2020.

This latest investment doubles down on a commitment made last July of £170 million for deploying CCS and hydrogen networks within industrial clusters.

Of this latest round of funding, £139 million is to be dedicated to the cutting of emissions by supporting the transition from natural gas to clean hydrogen power and scaling up carbon capture and storage (CCS). The latter to place 90% of emissions currently being released into the air by heavy industry into permanent underground storage.

£26 million is to be directed at developing new, advanced building techniques – such as offsite construction – to reduce both construction costs and carbon emissions, with a further £10 million to support projects focused on productivity and building quality.

The announcement provides a much-needed indication of intent for the commercial sector which has, until now, complained of a lack of direction and support from the Government following its well-publicised aim to achieve net-zero by 2050. It is understandable that the government would target heavy industry and transport first as these are by far the guiltiest parties when it comes to carbon emissions, but increasingly, the finger has also pointed at the built environment. So the inclusion of dedicated support for construction is welcome.  However, the focus on ‘R&D’ projects and so by default, new builds, means many commercial organisations caught out by difficult or limiting refurbishment are still left waiting for clear advice and more crucially, for funding.

The real glimmer of hope in the announcement lies in the clear assertion that hydrogen production forms part of the Government’s plans for national carbon reduction. Familiarity and the most comprehensive pre-existing national infrastructure makes a transition from natural gas to a hydrogen mix an obvious choice for driving forward to net-zero. Critically, for many commercial organisations struggling to equate the costs of transitioning to more sustainable energy sources hydrogen offers a simple, and more cost-effective answer, so long as its provision is made more available in the mid-term. In the short-term, this should back a decision to move to hybrid systems that are able to blend legacy natural gas with direct-electric and renewable energy. What the government needs to do now is recognise the value of hybrid systems as a stepping stone to wholly hydrogen and renewable-based systems, thereby providing a safety net for commercial facility and energy managers who may fear expensive commitments to what could be the wrong energy technology in the long term.

Green Heat Roadmap highlights the challenges of achieving Net Zero by 2050

A new report launched by Minister for Climate Change Lord Duncan on 15 October 2019, calls for an urgent Green Heat Roadmap by 2020 to scale low carbon heating technologies.

The 80% 2050 carbon emission reduction target relative to 1990 already required over 20,000 households to switch to low-carbon heating every week between 2025 and 2050. The zero-carbon target requires even more rapid decarbonisation yet the most successful policy constellations to date have only succeeded in encouraging 2,000 dwellings to switch to low-carbon heating every week.

Despite the focus on households, large-scale rollout also requires the development of supply chains so at-scale demonstrations go hand-in-hand with protection. This activity will also impact on the role the commercial sector will have to play, particularly with community-led and local approaches taking precedent, increasing the visibility of successful approaches.

Commenting on the report, EUA chief executive Mike Foster said; “EUA believes that the only sensible, cost effective and deliverable solution to decarbonising the hard to tackle heat sector is by using green gases such as hydrogen. The technology is being tested that can deliver the carbon reductions needed, while keeping people warm.

“It is the optimum solution. The energy trilemma, a phrase that rightly suggests the difficulty in balancing the competing demands of affordability, reliability, and sustainability, should be set against the UK’s particular needs, and utilising the existing gas network, but with low carbon gas, does this.”

Read the report here.

Is Hydrogen The Long Term Answer To Decarbonising Commercial Buildings?

The UK Government’s announced drive towards Net-Zero is to be lauded, but in truth, there is no utopian response that completely satisfies all criteria. So, the search continues for the most cost-effective and robust path of transformation for the commercial sector. What is clear is that technologies that can leverage existing infrastructure and supply chains are highly advantageous when it comes to commercial buildings contributing to long-term decarbonisation.

This was why in late 2018 the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) proposed that hydrogen, when combined with greater energy efficiency, cheap low-carbon power generation and new ‘hybrid’ heat pump systems would be a credible option to help decarbonise the UK energy system.

Previous assessment had always questioned the practicality and expensive of roll out at scale, despite recognising the potential of hydrogen as a zero-carbon energy source. The CCC’s new findings, however, indicated that hydrogen could replace natural gas in parts of the energy system, where electrification is not feasible or is prohibitively expensive, for example in providing heat on colder winter days, industrial heat processes and back-up power generation.

This has spurred on HyDeploy, the largest gas innovation project ever funded by Ofgem. The project, which is set to be completed by 2023 is a launch pad for the hydrogen blending market and the UK’s first to demonstrate hydrogen injection into a live gas network, with the aim to achieve up to 20% volume blend for domestic gas use. The overarching aim of the project is to provide the safety case for hydrogen blending and facilitate the clearance of regulatory barriers necessary to kick start the hydrogen blending market.

The project is a critically important stepping stone in establishing Hydrogen as a credible option for the UK’s energy transition. The reality is that a shift to hydrogen requires a number of obstacles to be overcome and much of that is to do with education. Research commissioned by the CCC into the general awareness of hydrogen as a heating technology showed a broad lack of familiarity with the new technology and how it works with the current heating expectations – efficiency, speed of deployment and physical form factors. There were also inherent negative perceptions relating to the burden of installation costs of the new technology. The challenge to the heating industry as a whole is to better educate customers in order to accept alternative technologies moving forward and to clearly establish the benefits of switching heating technologies.

What is clear, is that hydrogen is not going to be the holy grail of zero carbon heating for commercial projects. The simple truth is that it would be impractical to switch the gas grid to 100% hydrogen for zero carbon heat, despite the existence of the extensive natural gas grid in the UK.

Producing bulk hydrogen from renewable electricity is also still expensive, and any produced by ‘surplus’ renewable electricity is not expected to meet the scale of demand. The production of low carbon hydrogen at scale will rely on using imported natural gas and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to offer a cost-effective route to produce lower volumes of hydrogen. Even when using CCS, it is important to realise hydrogen from fossil fuels will not be zero-carbon.

But, in terms of cost-effectively reducing emissions from energy use to a very low level by 2050, producing hydrogen via a low carbon route and storing it at scale makes it a potentially valuable complement to electrification.

Looking forward, the priority for the 2020s is to educate the commercial market by demonstrating hydrogen’s value. This begins by commencing hydrogen production at scale as part of a CCS cluster. It is proposed that blending at small proportions into the natural gas supply and deployment within industry would not initially require major infrastructure changes. Without doubt, there will be new policies put in place by the government to drive this adoption as greater clarity is gained regarding hydrogen’s long-term role in the energy system.

In the mid-term to long-term, hydrogen is expected to play a valuable role in meeting the needs for heating the UK’s commercial buildings. This will be realised primarily by deployment in combination with heat pumps as part of ‘hybrid heat pump’ systems.

Heat pumps, powered by increasingly low carbon electricity, offer the potential to provide heat efficiently for most of the time, with hydrogen boilers contributing during periods of peak electricity demand, which have cost implications for a business, and when temperature plunge in winter months. The expectation is for the combined deployment of hydrogen and heat pumps to effectively displace fossil fuel only use in buildings in the long term to achieve very low emission energy systems that will make an important contribution to decarbonisation.

As a result, facility and energy managers looking to establish a road map to net zero carbon are advised to look at how they can integrate heat pumps with their existing gas infrastructure into a hybrid approach that will not only be more efficient, lower cost and lower carbon, but ultimately be hydrogen ready.

With close to 50 years of experience in advising the commercial sector on hot water, heating and low carbon renewable power systems, Adveco is perfectly placed to consult on short, mid and long term options for your commercial projects, whether new build or refurbishment.