Read the Adveco December 2022 newsletter featuring Build2Perform, best practices in electric water heating, solar thermal and guidance on maintenance and servicing…
Read the Adveco December 2022 newsletter featuring Build2Perform, best practices in electric water heating, solar thermal and guidance on maintenance and servicing…
Adveco takes a look at the advantages of deploying solar thermal for hot water generation in commercial properties. As part of an organisation’s wider sustainability plans, solar thermal offers a proven renewable technology that reduces emissions whilst able to integrate with other sustainable technology including air source heat pumps, direct electric and ultimately, through retained gas connections, hydrogen.
Commercial properties have traditionally sourced domestic hot water (DHW) from systems that have relied on gas boilers or water heaters because of the necessary high temperatures required for safe operation and the cost-effective operation it offers businesses. More recently there has been a trend toward all-electric systems in commercial new builds, driven by calls to support the government’s net zero strategy and cessation of new gas grid connections.
In 2020, according to the Department for Business, Energy, & Industry Strategy (BEIS), there were more than 1,656,000 non-domestic buildings in England and Wales. These properties are directly responsible for nearly one-fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions and, since DHW can account for as much as 30% of a business’s routine energy demands, addressing emissions from hot water generation becomes a key issue.
Whether a commercial hot water system uses gas or electricity, it will require a preheat source to reduce carbon emissions. Today there are realistically two main choices, either heat pumps or solar thermal. Neither technology offers a standalone response for the hot water system that will also require an alternate top-up heat source to meet minimum safe working flows of 60°C, peak demands and periods of low ambient temperatures or poor solar availability during winter months.
As a rule of thumb, new builds will invariably default to heat pumps, whereas properties with an existing gas connection will see greater advantages from the installation of solar thermal for hot water generation.
Currently, when comparing average non-domestic gas to electricity tariffs, electricity will cost as much as four and a half times that of gas. Even if a heat pump can demonstrate a 3 to 1 coefficient of performance (COP), and that needs to be for water with working flow temperatures of at least 45°C, that is not going to be enough to offset the difference in the cost of the gas-alone-fired alternative. Consider also that if direct electric is being used to top up the heat pump system and you are looking at an even wider divergence in operational costs.
Ideally allowing for approximately 20% solar fraction, or the percentage of the total thermal load satisfied by solar energy, employing solar thermal for hot water generation can be extremely effective in reducing reliance on the gas boiler.
Accurately assessing the demands and limitations of a building is critical for the correct sizing of the solar thermal system as the real world always seems to add unforeseen complexity. For instance, up to 25% of the total flat roof space available for solar panels will be limited by the allowance for access and prevention of shade which would otherwise compromise system efficiency. As building footprints become more compact and high-rise, especially in the case of city centres, available roof space to demand sharply decreases and solar thermal will come into competition with other heating and ventilation systems using the roof as real estate for installation. This is where solar thermal is more advantageous than solar photovoltaics (PV). Both approaches are directly comparable when used to offset direct electric water heating, with similar installation costs and annual savings. But in order to match three solar thermal panels taking up 6.6m² of roof space, a 4kW solar PV system will require 25m² to accommodate up to 16 panels in its system.
In general terms, each room in a hotel, care facility or education accommodation within an application design will require a 0.5 m² aperture, which is the area over which the solar radiation enters the collector. For flat plate collectors, the gross area and the aperture will be the same, with Adveco collectors, for example, each measuring 2.24 m². When sized and installed correctly, each solar thermal collector can contribute up to 1400kWh per annum, providing electricity savings of £300 electric and more importantly reducing emissions of CO² by 322kg. A commercial system sized to support an occupancy of 50 will typically require 12-24 panels, whilst smaller systems servicing up to 12 occupants will employ three to four panels. Collectively the panels deliver significant savings on the running costs that are not gained by using heat pumps.
There are also additional advantages that come with using solar thermal compared to heat pumps. Solar thermal operates silently meaning no sound pollution; there are no high global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants; and no specialist registration, such as F-gas, is needed for installation, although installers should be solar trained. A correctly installed and maintained solar thermal system will outlast a heat pump, and maintenance is low, especially if systems are deployed with a drainback capability.
Using solar thermal for hot water generation works but capturing solar energy in a fluid that transfers heat indirectly to the DHW system. The solar fluid must be correctly managed, if left in the panel it can overheat, stagnating into a tar-like consistency which can leave collectors irreparable. Drainback is particularly important for preventing such overheating and resultant damage. It works by draining the fluid out of the system when not in use. This functionality is incorporated into all panels in Adveco solar system designs. Should the power be cut, the system naturally drains the fluid back to the reservoir, without the need for working components, providing guaranteed, low maintenance overheat protection. With such a system in place, solar fluid will last at least eight years before requiring a refresh. Drainback does require a 3m drop from the collector to the plant room to successfully operate, so the location of the plant room and the presence of flat or sloped roofs all come into play when calculating the most effective installation.
Fortunately, solar thermal also lends itself to working in conjunction with not only conventional gas heating but also other renewable technologies including air source heat pumps. This enables a variety of bespoke, hybrid applications to be considered to meet the varied demands of commercial buildings. As solar thermal is (at times) a high-temperature renewable source, the heat pump should be used to supply the initial water heating from cold to 45°C. Solar thermal is then used after the heat pump to top up water temperature from 45°C. Any additional required energy would then be supplied by an immersion heater. This allows the solar to offset the immersion consumption, instead of offsetting the heat pump which already benefits from the COP. Although the solar will lose some efficiency operating at higher temperatures it is better because the COP is higher than the loss of efficiency.
Read the Adveco November 2022 newsletter featuring hydrogen 20% blend, public sector sustainability & our latest product roundup
Commercial hot water specialist Adveco, announces its range of ADplus and AD condensing gas water heaters, and MD gas boilers are all 20% hydrogen blend ready without the need for any modification for commercial DHW or heating projects.
Bill Sinclair, technical director, Adveco said,
“Customers working on commercial projects can continue to commit with peace of mind to gas-fired water heating applications where connections already exist. With our instantaneous ADplus, semi-instantaneous AD, and the MD boiler range all 20% hydrogen blend ready, they instantly gain an opportunity to embrace more sustainable gas supplies by the end of the decade.”
Adveco’s current range of high efficiency, ultra-low emission gas-fired condensing water heaters and boilers from Adveco deliver advanced burner technology and rugged titanium stainless steel construction of the heat exchangers that ensure optimal operation and longevity. For models with multiple heat exchangers, smart balancing helps reduce operational costs, further extends the life of the appliance, and provides built-in redundancy to ensure there is no downtime for business-critical demands of domestic hot water.
This ensures Adveco’s ADplus, AD and MD will continue to operate well into the 2030s while delivering on the desire to decarbonise operations in the most cost-effective manner as hydrogen blending becomes commonplace.
Adveco’s proven technology provides a practical, future-proof choice today with a clear path to the adoption of future generations of proven 100% hydrogen appliances as the gas network matures and greens.
If you have any questions about Adveco’s range of hydrogen-ready commercial hot water heaters and boilers, get in touch with our team of experts.
The march to produce a sustainable public sector is generating a wealth of challenges for organisations, not least where to begin making a difference now. At Adveco we would argue for starting with water heating.
The provision of domestic hot water (DHW) applications can be a major source of energy demand for public sector organisations. Accounting for as much as 30% of a property’s total daily energy usage, water heating regularly contributes to carbon emissions and increased running costs. From education to healthcare, it is also a necessity for day-to-day operations.
Addressing how hot water is generated to meet demands is a sensible place to begin tackling net zero issues, reducing energy usage and emissions in a practical real-world manner that sets an agenda for positive investment in sustainability. Whether the project is a new build or refurbishment of an older property sustainability gains can be achieved right now without addressing the fabric of the building.
Adveco is the specialist in domestic hot water applications (DHW) for commercial-scale projects. This places us right in the centre of the sustainability mix, helping address carbon reduction and air quality through improved energy management/reduction, and leading the charge in innovating application designs that leverage renewable solar and air-source heat pumps as part of wider electrical and mechanical projects. Whether embracing new low-carbon building projects or supporting public sector organisations with legacy buildings and infrastructure that want to introduce greater sustainability, we are positioned to support these goals. A very large proportion of our work, as a result, is bespoke and, as an independent company, we can recommend the best possible choice of appliances for optimal provision of business-critical hot water services.
We are committed to partnering with customers to create a more sustainable public sector, providing invaluable support from a single entity for the design, supply and then service of our applications, providing consistency from inception and on through the operational life. This is especially valuable as it places focus on reducing carbon and controlling costs not only in terms of capital investment but also for operational expenditure. It also means we can advise and adjust to adapt to new technologies as they become available and can be shown to have a practical advantage in striving for net zero by 2050.
Today, our applications are primarily built around air source heat pumps, solar thermal, electric and gas-fired water heaters and boilers. A wide range of thermal storage vessels and ancillaries support bespoke and hybrid system designs for new build and refurbishment projects. We can also bring all this technology together into either bespoke or pre-sized prefabricated hot water plant rooms. These are constructed off-site at our facilities and delivered ready for immediate installation, minimising the onsite requirements for plumbing and electrical connections. A plant room can now be delivered, installed and operational in a matter of days and often makes use of unused and wasted space, from rooftops to waste ground.
Looking forward, especially for those building already on gas, there is a strong potential for hydrogen blend and truly green hydrogen-based systems that hold the potential to take us to net zero faster and with less physical alteration to existing buildings. That translates to lower-cost implementation and a ready familiarity with operating and maintaining services. Most modern gas appliances will already be capable of accepting the intended 20% hydrogen/natural gas blend currently being tested for the grid, whilst a 100% hydrogen blend will form the second-generation approach as services roll out nationally through the late 2030s and 2040s.
A truly sustainable public sector will therefore be a longer-term project, but that doesn’t mean we can sit on our laurels. Every organisation can begin to make changes now that will have a more profound impact as we move closer to the 2050 deadline, small changes quickly aggregate into major shifts in the way you and your staff think and operate.
Much focus has been placed on space heating, but, if this past summer heat wave is not an aberration but a symptom of global warming as most claim, then focus will inevitably shift from heating to cooling and indoor air quality (IAQ). Water heating however remains the exception that makes year-round demands on business no matter the weather conditions. For many, it is a necessity for day-to-day operations. Hot water provision is a major source of energy demand for some organisations, so if you are trying to decide where to begin investing efforts toward greater sustainability, water heating is going to be a good starting point. Addressing how hot water is generated to meet demands is a really sensible place to begin tackling sustainability issues, reducing energy usage and emissions in a practical, real-world manner right now and setting the agenda for positive investment in sustainability.
Perhaps the best advice we can give right now for existing buildings is to assess your water demand by metering it accurately. This is best achieved by placing flow and temperature sensors across a system and recording real-world data. It’s a cost-effective and highly valuable way of assessing demands and avoiding system oversizing. With gas-fired systems oversizing has been a common occurrence, but the capital cost variation was minimal. However, you do get hit with additional operational costs. When gas is partially or completely replaced with like-for-like renewables the additional capital costs of an oversized system can be eyewatering, and that is before considering the heightened operational costs of running all electric systems. Balanced approaches that combine existing gas-fired water heaters with 30-40% renewables may be gaining traction as a way to successfully introduce sustainability, but accurately surveying your system demands first is paramount.
This all pays dividends, it is better for the environment, staff and clients, and it’s good for organisations to be seen to be making a real investment in the future. Plus, you gain more modern, efficient and potentially more cost-effective building services which all help with the bottom line.
Adveco’s hybrid and bespoke designs ensure carbon reduction strategies while delivering a cost-effective lifetime investment for a sustainable public sector. One that is also future-proofed to meet the demands of evolving renewable technologies which will become key to achieving net zero by 2050.
Talk to us at the Public Sector Sustainability Event in Manchester on November 1st 2022.
If you have any questions about public sector sustainability and how Adveco can help you, get in touch with our team of experts.
At the time of publication of the 1.5°C Plan, the UK’s ambition was to achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. Since then, both national and local climate ambition has increased in terms of decarbonising UK cities to lead reduction.
At a national level, the UK has committed to reach a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels) and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For London, the quoted aim is to commit to moving that net zero target from 2050 to 2030.
Successfully decarbonising UK cities before 2050 could follow several potential pathways, with London defining likely routes to achieving net zero early.
Two scenarios, high electrification, and high hydrogen are closest to current UK-wide targets, with a target 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. High electrification favours electrification of heat and transport, whilst high hydrogen assumes that hydrogen is available at scale in the long term. With a commitment to a more ambitious retrofit programme, these scenarios represent the maximum level of residual emissions considered to be still compatible with a 2030 Net Zero target.
High electrification and high hydrogen slightly exceed national targets, with high electrification modelled to decarbonise faster (27% residual emissions in 2030) due to the reliance of high hydrogen converting the gas grid which happens after 2030 (30% residual emissions in 2030). The high hydrogen scenario is the most optimistic about the role that hydrogen will play in that it assumes there will be a conversion of the existing gas grid to hydrogen in the post-2030 period. Conversion in that scenario begins in the early-to-mid-2030s, with completion by 2045, and total demand reaching 26 TWh/year in 2050 (compared to the current demand of close to 60 TWh/year natural gas). Both scenarios only reach 10% emissions in the early 2040s.
Accelerating the process of decarbonising UK cities successfully requires local authorities, the private sector and public bodies to all engage in a proactive role in driving the transition to net zero. These scenarios are therefore further refined under ‘no constraints’ or ‘accelerated green’ delivery.
With no constraint over the short timeframe from costs or local influence to implement challenging policies, such as early scrappage of boilers and vehicles, a significantly accelerated decarbonisation pathway is opened to meet the minimum achievable residual emissions by 2030. Due to the pace of decarbonisation required, technology options will necessarily be limited to those that are currently available or will certainly be available by the late 2020s, with a high reliance on widespread electrification. Modelling shows that 14% residual emissions (relative to 1990 levels) are achieved by 2030, falling to 10% shortly after, in 2033 when there are no constraints. This is considered the maximum level of emissions reduction possible by 2030 (minimum residual emissions) and relies on the deployment of very ambitious levels of behaviour change toward electrification of heat and transport, supported by significant supportive policy at the national and regional levels.
The accelerated green scenario represents an intermediate option which aims to reach the lowest possible residual emissions by 2030 without boiler and vehicle scrappage. The city would decarbonise as rapidly as possible while leaving long-term technology options open. This would mean allowing some heating systems to remain connected to a blended (hydrogen and biomethane) gas grid and a moderate share of pure hydrogen in selected applications.
Without requiring widescale scrappage, the accelerated green approach reaches 22% residual emissions by 2030 and achieves 10% residual emissions in the late 2030s, four years later than the unconstrained approach.
In all scenarios, most remaining emissions in 2030 come from Buildings (40-50%, depending on the scenario) and Transport (38-40%). Under the published 1.5°C Plan all four scenarios decarbonised less rapidly, such that around 40% of emissions would still remain in 2030.
All scenarios assume varying degrees of hydrogen use. The current technological immaturity of hydrogen production and the need to deploy the Hydrogen that is available to strategically important sectors represents a significant risk factor in the high hydrogen scenario, both in terms of the uncertainty of availability, emissions intensity, and future costs. In all scenarios hydrogen therefore only plays a small but strategic role in meeting the net zero by 2030 target.
Without constraints, early action on decarbonising UK cities ultimately offers the lowest cost pathway by 2060 with the added benefit of lower ongoing fuel costs than in other scenarios. But without the full support of all key players, expectations are likely to fall in favour of the lowest cost and least disruptive scenario presented.
Without carbon costs, high hydrogen is the lowest cost scenario, largely due to lower technology costs associated with gas boilers (H2 or biomethane) compared to heat pumps. Despite the lower CAPEX costs in the high hydrogen scenario, the perceived higher fuel costs expected to heat a building using a hydrogen boiler over a heat pump, mean that the cumulative costs for high hydrogen will eventually increase above the other scenarios. But familiar boiler/water heater technology, less installation disruption and the potential for future capping of costs on green hydrogen continue to drive the positive outlook for the technology as a means of achieving early success in decarbonising UK cities.
Source: Element Energy Report, 2022 – Analysis of a Net Zero 2030 Target for Greater London
Introducing changes to Part L of the Building Regulations (Conservation of fuel and power) for England represents a commitment to raising the energy performance of buildings to provide a pathway to highly efficient non-domestic buildings which are zero carbon ready, better for the environment and fit for the future. Although due to be formally released in 2025, the first of a number of interim measures come into force this month.
Whilst the new regulations will have a profound impact on new-build projects, refurbishment works are likely to be initially affected by the introduction on June 15th of new restrictions on the specifying of poor-efficiency direct-gas fired water heaters. Under Part L, new regulations for hot water systems essentially end like-for-like replacement for non-condensing water heaters by imposing new minimum efficiencies (91% for natural gas and 92% for LPG).
Each new fixed building service, whether in a new or existing building, must meet the legislated values set out for efficiency. Replacement fixed services must be at least as efficient, either using the same or a different fuel as the service being replaced with matching or preferably better seasonal efficiency.
If moving over to a new fuel system, such as oil or LPG to natural gas, it should not produce more CO₂ emissions nor more primary energy per kWh of heat than the appliance being replaced. If ageing renewables such as wind or solar are being replaced the electrical output must be at least that of the original installation, except where it can be demonstrated that a smaller system would be more appropriate or effective. And if work extends or provides new fixed building services energy meters will need to be installed.
When specifying a DHW system, sizing should be based on the anticipated demand of the building (based on BS EN 12831-3). The regulations demand systems not be “significantly oversized,” but we would argue any oversizing will have a negative impact on the efficiency and operational costs of a DHW system. So accurate sizing is critical in terms of delivering an optimal thermal efficiency assessment. That assessment will include the heat generator and any integral storage vessel, but will exclude all secondary pipework, fans, pumps, diverter valves, solenoids, actuator and supplementary storage vessels from the calculations.
As a guide the minimum thermal efficiencies for natural gas-based DHW systems, based on gross seasonal efficiency of the heat generator are:
91% – Direct fired for new building with >30kW output*
91% – Direct fired for new building with <30kW output*
91% – Boiler efficiency for indirect-fired systems in new & existing buildings
100% assumed Electrically heated new & existing buildings
* Product standard BS EN 15502-2-1:2012 for gas-fired boilers and appliances of a nominal heat input not exceeding 1000 kW / BS EN 89 gas-fired storage water heaters for the production of DHW
Adveco carries of range of stainless steel direct-fired condensing water heaters, the AD and new ADplus ranges, and MD boiler range, which all leverage advanced burner control to drive efficiency as high as 106%. Plus glass-lined condensing water heaters such as the AO Smith BFC Cyclone (97% efficient) and Innovo (98% efficient) provide a range of choices that already exceed the latest regulations under Part L and provides a safety net should regulations tighten in the future.
As with the broader regulations relating to space heating, controls form a necessary element of the new Part L regulations for combustion heated DHW systems. These all must incorporate a time control (independent of space heating circuits) and an electronic temperature control.
Additionally, regulations call for fully pumped circulation where compatible with the heat generator for primary hot water circuits. Automatic thermostatic control to shut off the burner/primary heat supply when the desired water temperature is reached, and primary flow if the system temperature is too high for all direct-fired circulator systems, direct-fired storage systems and indirect-fired systems. Direct-fired continuous flow systems should include a heat exchanger flow sensor to control outlet temperatures and detect insufficient flow with burner/heat input shut off. A high limit thermostat is also required to shut off the primary flow if the system temperature is too high.
Point-of-use, local and centralised domestic hot water systems should have automatic thermostatic control to interrupt the electrical supply when the setpoint storage temperature is reached or the system temperature gets too high. If there is an over-temperature trip manual reset should be possible.
Local and centralised DHW systems should have both a 7-day time control and the facility to boost the temperature by using an immersion heater in the cylinder.
Instantaneous water heaters should include a flow sensor to control the rate of flow through the heat exchanger. If the sensor detects insufficient flow, it should shut off the electrical input. Plus, a high limit thermostat is required to shut off the primary flow if the system temperature is too high.
Alongside gas, solar thermal is likely to be applied in the notional building unless heat pumps meet 100% of the actual building’s demand. Solar has been used in calculations in the past to overcome the poor fabric performance of a building. But, given the broad majority of heat pumps are currently used for preheat on commercial DHW applications, at most offsetting 70% of the energy demanded, solar thermal has a valid role to play and it’s a proven sustainable technology. Our expectations are for commercial DHW systems to continue in a familiar manner for the near to mid-term, with gas appliances used to provide cost-effective supply, especially during grid peak hours. Heat pumps and/or solar thermal will be deployed to provide preheat to that system. As efficiencies improve and higher water temperature (more than 60°C) are achieved through heat pumps we see gas appliances slowly being phased out unless they can be replaced with green gas (hydrogen) alternatives. This naturally leads to the provisioning of hybrid systems for the coming decade, optimising a mix of current technologies that address the latest regulations, reduce emissions and crucially deliver value for money with lower operational costs.
These measures are designed to enforce a move away from fossil fuels to low carbon technology for heating and domestic hot water (DHW) and set a more rapid timeline. There is no doubt these new measures will ultimately represent a seismic shift in thinking when it comes to commercial hot water and heating applications, but a cushion has been built in to allow for the development of systems that are necessarily more complex than would be seen in domestic settings. This brings considerable opportunities for developers and specifiers willing to consider both existing and new technologies in order to deliver compliant applications in the next five years.
Whilst a fabric first approach is encouraged, low carbon technologies are being emphasised. This ultimately means heat pumps for the broad majority of DHW applications where there is a low heat demand. For commercial properties where there is typically a high heat demand gas is still allowed while the industry works to develop suitable alternatives.
One final observation on the implication for the specification and installation of commercial DHW relates to completion requirements. Part L tightens the commissioning requirements to reduce the gaps in performance over design and is intended to deliver improved project handover with accurate energy usage predictions. As a result, we can expect to see revisions of commissioning processes across the industry to help streamline delivery and speed up handover, crucial if government roll-out targets for low carbon technologies to achieve Net Zero by 2050 are to be met and superseded by commercial organisations.
Regulation changes take effect on 15 June 2022 for use in England. It does not apply to work subject to a building notice, full plans application or initial notice submitted before that date, provided the work for each building is started before 15 June 2023. Regulation changes do not currently apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
For many, unlocking the potential of hydrogen represents a familiar, easier and more cost-effective way to transition to more sustainable heating practices in buildings. It is also increasingly seen as a core shift in the energy trade and critically, in the wake of demands to reduce dependency on Russian oil and gas, the future for regionalisation of energy supply.
In the recent report, Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), hydrogen it is estimated will cover up to 12% of global energy use by 2050, with at least two-thirds of total production being green hydrogen (produced with renewable electricity) with the remainder blue hydrogen (derived from natural gas).
Here in the UK, the status of hydrogen remains to be confirmed as part of the government’s push towards attaining net zero by 2050. The Heating and Buildings Strategy published in late 2021 does however begin to give an indication of the growing support for the technologies currently being tested.
The government’s commitment so far extends to the testing and evaluation of the potential of hydrogen as an option for heating workplaces. In partnership with industry, the intent is to “clearly define the evidence needed to make a policy decision about the role hydrogen for heating can play in our future energy system.”
To this end, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), supported by Innovate UK and Innovate UK KTN, have launched the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund (NZHF) which was most recently cited in this month’s Energy Security Strategy to focus on unlocking the potential of hydrogen. A funding sum of up to £240m has been made available to explore the development and deployment of low carbon hydrogen production. The funding is intended to de-risk investment and reduce lifetime costs of multiple hydrogen production projects this decade to help ensure a diverse and secure decarbonised energy system that meets the UK government’s stated ambition of 10GW low carbon hydrogen production by 2030, and commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
This investment comes in advance of a declared strategic decision by 2026 on the role of hydrogen in heating buildings. This decision will consider the success of development projects that focus on appliances, such as new gas boilers that can be readily converted to hydrogen (‘hydrogen-ready’) and the testing of conversion of the gas grid. The latter in particular is critical in terms of evaluating the technical and practical feasibility of using hydrogen instead of natural gas for heating. This assessment process is also expected to consider the expected costs, benefits, impacts, and practical delivery implications.
This consultation process will also be a factor in decisions in relation to the future of broader boiler and heating system efficiency and explore the best ways to reduce carbon emissions from our heating systems
According to IRENA, the rise of hydrogen’s potential is linked to the plummeting costs of renewables and electrolysers. This greatly improves the economic attractiveness of ‘green’ hydrogen which also can help deliver on the demands for storage that comes hand-in-hand with greater dependence on wind and photovoltaic (PV) power generation. From this perspective, ‘green’ hydrogen becomes an important technology in the extension of renewable electricity developments.
Although ‘Grey’ hydrogen production, which is solely based on fossil fuels, is expected to be rapidly phased out in the coming decades, ‘Blue’ hydrogen, although also based on fossil fuels, is expected to play a complementary role to ‘Green’ hydrogen, so long as the carbon capture and storage (CCS) is proved viable. As a result, hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels are now projected to meet a sizeable share of final energy demand in 2050, up from virtually nothing today. To achieve this in the UK, the Heating & Building Strategy report outlines the key processes of consultation required for unlocking the potential of hydrogen beyond 2026.
The local trials and planning, research and development and testing outlined will help develop necessary evidence on the role hydrogen can play in the heating of buildings, enabling strategic decisions to be taken on the role of hydrogen in heating buildings in 2026. This timeframe, and the necessity of its elements, are very important to remember when the media is constantly calling for a decision to be made more rapidly. The implications of a transition to a hydrogen grid are immense, but so are the challenges. It cannot be rushed and it cannot fail if net zero is to be realistically attained, especially across the commercial & public sector built environment.
On the global stage, green hydrogen may strengthen energy independence, security, and resilience by cutting import dependency and price volatility. However, the raw materials needed for hydrogen remain exposed to shortages and price fluctuations that could negatively affect hydrogen supply chains, cost and revenues. For this reason, hydrogen, if it is green-lit as a core contributor to the UK’s net zero delivery will not do so in isolation. Just as most buildings will currently rely on both gas and electricity, net zero ‘ready’ organisations will most likely have embraced a mixed approach. This will leverage the advantages of air source heat pumps (ASHP), proven solar thermal and natural gas with a hydrogen blend as a redundancy/peak demand back-up through the 2030s and early 40s. Hydrogen ready’’ adoption should be a necessity by the early to mid-2030’s. Then the UK could look forward to full transition to ‘Blue’ then ‘Green’ hydrogen from the late 2030s and throughout the 2040s at a national scale. Regional rollouts will of course redefine these timelines, but, if the policy supports the adoption of hydrogen from 2026, the technology usage path should remain fairly clear for commercial projects looking at unlocking the potential of hydrogen as a part of their corporate drive toward net zero sustainability by 2050.
Building Back Greener is the government’s campaign to improve the energy performance of buildings, reduce costs, minimise the impacts of transition on the energy system, and make switching to low carbon systems easier in order to reduce emissions and achieve net zero by 2050. Underpinning this process are three illustrative scenarios for greener buildings that reflect different technology mixes that would allow the decarbonisation of heating in buildings. The three scenarios are high hydrogen, high electrification and a dual-energy system scenario.
Today, the importance of driving these scenarios forward has been given greater urgency by the long-awaited report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To stay under the critical 1.5C threshold, according to the IPCC, means that carbon emissions from everything that we do, buy, use or eat must peak by 2025, and tumble rapidly after that, reaching net-zero by the middle of this century.
To put it in context, the amount of CO2 that the world has emitted in the last decade is the same amount that’s left to us to stay under this key temperature threshold. “I think the report tells us that we’ve reached the now-or-never point of limiting warming to 1.5C,” said IPCC lead author Heleen De Coninck. This is why quickly achieving goals towards net zero by 2050 is so important if we are to curb the worst implications of global warming – heat waves, drought & flooding.
The immediate focus from the government is to achieve Carbon Budget 6 targets, to ensure the UK is on target to achieve net zero, although many already doubt these budgets will be met as simple measures such as closing down coal-fired power stations are replaced by a far more complex mix of options that deliver more incremental steps to reducing carbon emissions. To achieve the level of emissions reductions across the built environment in line with the government’s delivery pathway to 2037, will take an estimated additional public and private investment of approximately £200 billion which will need to be focused upon one or more of the outlined scenarios.
The high electrification scenario assumes that there is no significant use of hydrogen for heating in buildings. This may be because hydrogen is not proven to be feasible, cost-effective, or preferable as a solution for low carbon heating, or because its deployment has been significantly delayed.
Under such conditions, the choice would be to continue the rapid growth of the heat pump market which the government has already seen as the best low carbon heating option for new buildings or those off the gas grid. This would mean increasing new installations (domestic and commercial) beyond the currently envisaged minimum of 600,000 per year in 2028 to up to 1.9 million per year from 2035. Currently, the UK sees approximately 35,000 heat pump installations per year, and commercial demands are already outstripping available stocks in the market as a result of raw material and component shortages caused by Covid.
To ensure the extended level of heat pump deployment, further policy would be required to phase out installation of new fossil fuel heating faster while continuing to follow natural replacement cycles. The proposed increased deployment of heat pumps will need to be accompanied by investment in the infrastructure needed to meet increased electricity demand, including the generation of low carbon electricity and additional grid capacity.
If hydrogen proves both feasible and preferable as a method for heating most UK buildings, and decisions taken in 2026 support a path to converting most of the national gas grid to hydrogen then the high hydrogen scenario would take effect. Pilot projects to provide heating for an entire town by the end of the decade would, once successfully implemented, see an accelerated rollout on a national scale. The conversion would likely start by building out from existing hydrogen production and use in industrial clusters, and roll-out would involve switchover on an area-by-area basis in different locations.
Due to the infrastructure and supply chain requirements of a hydrogen conversion the government estimates new heating system installations should be low carbon or hydrogen-ready, meaning ready for a planned future conversion, from 2035, with approximately 30% of existing low carbon buildings to be supplied by hydrogen at that time.
This does mean approximately 53% of buildings with low carbon systems would be reliant on heat pumps and 15% heat networks. This is why the third, and most realistic of the scenarios for greener buildings is one based around a dual-energy system, where both hydrogen and electrification prove feasible and preferable for heating buildings with a widespread demand for hybrid systems that utilise a mix of energy sources.
For example, if all, or most of, the gas grid is converted to low carbon hydrogen, but the costs and benefits of switching to hydrogen versus installing a heat pump are viewed differently by organisations we might see a high switchover to both hydrogen and heat pumps on the gas grid. Based on differing geographical or built environment factors, there may be a partial, but still extensive, conversion of the gas grid to hydrogen. Under this latter scenario, more careful consideration would be required of which parts of the grid would be converted and where responsibility for decisions about the costs and benefits of converting different areas should lie.
While the government claims it remains early days in terms of determining the policy framework that might support this mixed transition, global conditions, both political and environmental, are driving fresh demands on the government to accelerate commitments. Any scenario in which hydrogen is an available option from the grid will require public policy decisions to enable cost-effective and coordinated investment in infrastructure and supply chains. If the case for converting the network to hydrogen differs strongly from area to area, more preparation may need to take place at a regional or local level.
Whichever scenario becomes the one of choice, you can expect greater consultation over new regulatory powers that can be brought to bear on the commercial sector to bring it into alignment with the government’s goals for delivering these scenarios for greener buildings.
Initially expect to see the phasing out of heating appliances that are only capable of burning fossil fuels. This would be consistent with the ambition to phase out the installation of new and replacement natural gas boilers by 2035, and the phasing out of the installation of high-carbon fossil fuel boilers in commercial properties not connected to the gas grid by 2024.
The government’s Energy White Paper has already set a minimum energy efficiency standard of EPC Band B by 2030 for privately rented commercial buildings in England and Wales. And you can expect further consultation on regulating the non-domestic owner-occupied building stock and consideration on whether this should align with the private rented sector minimum energy efficiency standards. There is also an expectation for a response to the 2021 consultation on introducing a performance-based policy framework in large commercial and industrial buildings, with the aim to introduce a pilot scheme sometime in 2022.
Further consultation is expected on the Small Business Energy Efficiency Scheme (SBEES). This scheme aims to remove barriers for SMEs in accessing energy efficiency measures, drive forward better buildings performance and aid SMEs in meeting regulatory standards.
Finally, you can also expect to see a strengthening of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), which is a mandatory energy assessment scheme for large businesses’ energy use and opportunities to improve energy efficiency.
What is very clear at this stage is that commercial organisations face a complex technical and regulatory challenge in the coming decades if they are to successfully navigate to a future with decarbonised buildings across their estates. Consulting with expert providers at the earliest planning stages can pay dividends in the longer term, balancing the use of cost-effective and familiar technology now with new developments in the mid-to-long term. From a business perspective, the advantages of decarbonisation can be valuable in terms of operational savings and corporate social responsibility gains, but higher capital and operational expenditure also need to be considered if realistic steps are to be made. With more than 50 years of experience delivering bespoke commercial hot water and heating applications and deep knowledge of renewable systems, including both heat pumps and solar thermal, Adveco is perfectly positioned to advise and assist organisations seeking to begin the decarbonisation process now.
The future of fossil fuels is a key issue that needed to be addressed by the government’s Heating & Buildings Strategy report which was published late last year. Statistics (PDF) from the Non-Domestic National Energy Efficiency Data-Framework (ND-NEED) from the Department for Business, Energy, & Industry Strategy (BEIS) defined more than 1,656,000 non-domestic buildings in England and Wales at the end of March 2020. 278,000 or 17% of this building stock is off-gas grid. It is estimated that these non-domestic buildings are responsible for nearly one-fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions, a scenario that will be further exacerbated by a predicted one-third rise in non-domestic floor space by 2050.
A major function of the campaign to Build Back Greener, the report outlines the near and long-term ambitions for phasing out unabated fossil fuels and a transition to low-carbon heat in order to achieve net zero in the UK. The intention is to use ‘natural replacement cycles’ and seek ‘trigger points’ to set long-term expectations within the building sector.
For commercial on-gas-grid buildings, this means putting in place a process to phase out installation of new natural gas boilers from 2035, with a caveat that the costs of investing in low-carbon alternatives have been suitably reduced. To achieve this will require the development of the market for replacement low-carbon sources of heat. The core technology for driving these new markets will be heat pumps, but there is also to be a consideration for other natural gas replacements. By 2026 the government intends consultation to be completed on the case for gas boilers/water heaters to be hydrogen-ready. The process of ‘greening the grid’ is perhaps the most interesting and least disruptive option, improving efficiency and replacing the current supply for those already connected to the gas grid with alternative low-carbon fuels, whether biomethane or hydrogen injection into the gas supply. The government has already committed to enabling the blending of hydrogen in the gas grid (up to 20% volume) and continuing to support the deployment of biomethane through the Green Gas Support Scheme as a method for decarbonising the gas grid.
To support early adopters in the small business space and lure them away from appliances that burn fossil fuels it has been proposed that a new Boiler Upgrade Scheme be launched this year which will support the installation of low-carbon heat pump based heating systems with a payment of £5,000, in line with domestic applications. Given the current additional complexities of commercial systems, with higher temperature demands, this may not be enough to encourage early adoption without the support of higher temperature devices designed specifically to meet commercial DHW demands. To further drive early adoption, the intent is to limit support for the construction of new gas grid connecting heating systems, effective this year. That does not apply to existing legacy structures with a grid-gas connection. Replacement boiler or water heater connections should be, as a minimum, more efficient than those being replaced. This it is proposed will be driven by the application of smart controls and supported by a new Boiler Plus standard that reflects improved efficiency and carbon savings. This should ape conditions set in ERP standards in 2018 for new boilers and emissions set under SAP10. Given that the latest generation of gas-fired condensing boilers and water heaters already greatly exceed the mandated requirements this policy could be seen to be redundant before it ever comes into law.
For the moment if your business uses gas, then you can upgrade to new gas appliances up until 2035, with hydrogen-ready options extending that window well into the 2040s based on current appliance lifespan. If you are considering upgrading a boiler of water heater, you could opt for a natural gas appliance, one that is not considered hydrogen-ready, for at least the next ten years without concerns of breaching new regulations, so long as the new unit is more efficient than the unit being replaced. This provides a safety net while assessing new technology options prior to the 2035 deadline. It would also be well worth considering the implementation of solar thermal preheat for gas-fired systems if you wanted to make sustainability commitments with proven and genuinely renewable technology.
Off-Grid, But Still Being Watched
For the 17% of commercial buildings currently operating off the gas grid, many of which will use LPG variants of boilers or water heaters versus oil, the report proposes phasing out the installation of new fossil fuel heating systems and switching to low-carbon alternatives. Plans would see the introduction of regulations to address large off-gas-grid non-domestic buildings (over 1,000m2) no earlier than 2024, followed by small and medium non-domestic buildings from 2026. Where low-temperature heat pumps cannot be reasonably or practicably accommodated other low-carbon heating options (such as high-temperature heat pumps, and potentially liquid biofuels) may be accepted as an alternative.
The wider aim is to support this near term change with greater investment in heat pump innovation, reducing footprint and making them easier to install. This process is, however, already front and centre for heat pump manufacturers without requesting government support. Better, more efficient, more environmentally and cost-friendly appliances is a clear market driver. At Adveco the recent introduction of the FPi-32 ASHP is a case in point, being extremely compact and better for the environment whilst being more efficient and therefore more cost-effective to operate. Despite being off-grid, potential developments in hydrogen delivery could also be a significant development for the future of fossil fuels, especially in more rural areas, although commercial off-gas grid sites are not uncommon in larger urban areas.
To further encourage this adoption, support for new LPG and oil heating systems could well be refused from this year onwards, with the potential for limited commercial funding support for replacement schemes, depending on scale, coming from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme or the proposed Boiler Upgrade Scheme.
The process of transitioning commercial buildings from fossil fuels to low-carbon will, the report accepts, be gradual. It describes a process similar to the electrification of vehicles, which has depended on a mix of incentives and reducing the cost of entry.
Details of any incentives and clear evidence of where cost reductions are to come from remain hazy. Currently, production and operational costs of heat pumps remain high in comparison to traditional gas appliances that make use of lower-cost fossil fuels. The report, however, anticipates aggressive cost reductions of at least 25-50% by 2025 leading to parity with boilers by 2030. This then anticipates the natural replacement cycles of heating systems throughout the late 2030s and 2040s’ where capital expenditure on low-carbon replacement technology should it believes have lowered substantially. This is why 2035 has been set as the date when all new heating system installations should be low-carbon or hydrogen-ready (at least in those areas where future hydrogen supply has been established) effectively reducing the broad use of fossil fuels across a wide span of the commercial built environment.
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