Posts

adapting to new technologies and approaches

2021 – Adapting to new technologies and approaches

The UK’s construction industry is familiar with adapting to new technologies and approaches to provide the latest and most efficient responses for creating better buildings.  2020, however, was unprecedented, but what does this mean for 2021? Looking forward, key trends within the industry include Covid-19 care, greener response sand efficient use of property space.

Coronavirus has attacked every corner of the UK, impacting the majority of businesses and therefore the wider economy. Despite vaccines, Covid-19 is now something we all must learn to live with, it has accelerated change and requires a re-evaluation of how buildings are conceived and used. As a specialist in the provision of commercial heating and especially hot water, Adveco is well versed in the design of systems to support the maintenance of hygiene within their buildings, critical for the ongoing prevention of the spread of Covid-19. There has never been a greater need for access to wash stations. Scientists have proven washing hand in warm, soapy waters for more than 20 seconds can reduce the spread of Coronavirus more efficiently than hand sanitisers. Additionally, hot water (at a minimum of 60°C) needs to be readily available for cleansing of materials and surfaces to prevent the spread further. With these requirements comes a need for more efficient systems capable of meeting these increased demands to be incorporated into commercial buildings. With the demands of maintaining a safe two-metre distance, space has become even more valuable. The hospitality sector is already struggling with the challenge of balancing revenue losses from reduced covers and are looking at how to create alfresco spaces to adapt to this new normal. Packaged plant rooms offer companies a means to use minimal space whilst still maximising efficient systems, freeing up valuable internal spaces or making use of dead spaces which are not customer friendly. This is also a fast, relatively low impact method for refurbishing hot water systems.

Despite all the chaos of Covid-19, it also brought into razor-sharp focus the effects of pollution. This was all too obvious when the world stopped for a moment and the effects of pollution decreased and allowed the environment to thrive. It proved to be a rallying cry for decarbonisation in 2020 and will continue to create headlines throughout 2021 and beyond. It remains a core focus for the construction and HVAC industry that will continue to strongly push for more wide-reaching frameworks to deliver eco-friendly technology and buildings to meet the challenging goal of achieving Net Zero by 2050.

Through exclusive technical partnerships and our in-house design function, Adveco can quickly adapt to these changing needs and help innovate products and systems to directly address the evolving challenges of decarbonising commercial buildings. We recognise that there is no single technology that delivers the entire answer, but there is no doubt heat pumps will play an important part, as will new green gas technologies towards the end of the decade.  This makes hybrid system approaches all the more valid for supporting the near-term transition of commercial organisations to a more sustainable track that reduces their building emissions and operational costs.

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.

The Route to a Green Grid

Decarbonisation of gas supplies is seen as a necessary step towards meeting the UK’s carbon reduction targets, including the net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050.  A new round of consultation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has laid out a structural proposal, the Green Gas Support Scheme, to be funded by a Green Gas Levy to increase the proportion of biomethane injection in the grid.

The intent of the consultation is to put in place the necessary mechanism “as soon as is practicable”, with the intent of launching the scheme within the year. The scheme would operate through to the financial year 2025-26, but initially, only support biomethane as this currently is the only green gas commercially produced in the UK. Crucially, the consultation recognises that to further decarbonise the gas grid, there is a need to widen support to other potential green gases in the longer term. This is important as it opens the door to further consultation on the strong potential of hydrogen blending to meet the more widespread demands for an alternative, green gas that can take full advantage of the highly effective infrastructure already in place to deliver gas to properties, both commercial and domestic, throughout the country.

As biomethane is produced from biomass, it is considered renewable and can offer significant carbon savings when compared with natural gas. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) consider the production of biomethane from waste as a low-regrets option and recommend continued government support.

To date, biomethane has been supported by the Non-Domestic RHI. As funding commitment to new projects ceases in March 2021, the Green Gas Support Scheme is intended to provide new investment for the industry, enabling the development of new production plants in order to encourage an increase in the proportion of green gas in the gas grid. The proposed tariff mechanism should help address the significant ongoing operating costs of plants. Additionally, as the payments are to be directly related to the specific volumes of biomethane injection, it will continue to incentivise ongoing biomethane production after the capital costs are paid off.

A major facet of the current consultation phase is intended to ratify a robust cost control framework to ensure that costs do not rise unexpectedly, damaging the value of any investment in the technology. It is believed that by driving investment into this sector, biomethane production will see an uplift, along with a reduction in production cost as plants are sized optimally based on individual characteristics and feedstock availability.

Looking beyond this scheme, focus must expand to recognise the value and importance of hydrogen in the mid to long term as the defacto choice for green gas delivery at scale. That means actively supporting hydrogen production through the Green Gas Support Scheme, or its successors. Given that blending small proportions into the natural gas supply and deployment within industry would not initially require major infrastructure changes, the use of hydrogen is truly advantageous.

We recognise that hydrogen is expected to play a valuable role in meeting the needs for heating the UK’s commercial buildings but will never be a 100% solution. This is why deployment in combination with heat pumps as part of a ‘hybrid system’ remains the best, and most cost-effective to deploy and operate method for commercial organisations to decarbonise operations and drive a low carbon economy.

Whether the ongoing consultation on green gas and low and high-temperature appliances decides to recognise the importance of ‘hybrids’ with financial support, the simple truth is that for the wide majority of commercial organisations looking to refurbish, capital investment and operational costs for heating and cooling systems are a critical decision factor. Hybrid systems offer the best option now and in the longer term as new Green Gas options come into play. It would, therefore, be greatly advantageous for the Government to recognise and support technologies that advance low carbon adoption now and support retention of existing infrastructure that would prove critical for the deployment of next-generation long term green technology.

Reduce Carbon with Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP)

Reducing Carbon with Air Source Heat Pumps

It is estimated that 40% of CO₂ emissions can come from commercial heating alone and finding new and innovative ways to heat premises is at the top of the list for many businesses.

Reducing Carbon with Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP)Commercial sites – education, healthcare, retail, logistics, offices, hospitality and leisure – seeking to reduce both their carbon footprint and energy bills have with air source heat pumps (ASHP) an opportunity to gain a long-term cost-effective means to heat water and space.

Whilst the cost of installing an ASHP will vary depending on the size and complexity of the commercial premises, there is no doubt that despite the initial outlay on a heat pump system there are significant savings that a business can make. Particularly if it is currently using electricity, oil, solid fuel or liquid gas to heat premises. When correctly installed by a qualified supplier, a commercial heat pump with minimal, regular maintenance should typically last 10 to 25 years. And, commercial businesses can still benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) initiative from the Department of Energy and Climate Change that pays per kilowatt-hour produced from sites accepted onto the scheme prior to March 2021.

Initial costs can be seen as prohibitive, but once the break-even point has been reached there is potential for significant savings and a solid return on investment. This, of course, assumes that a commercial property is suitable for an ASHP installation which will require space adjacent to an exterior wall or a flat roof space to situate the unit.

As we have seen, ASHPs offer a great many benefits, but there are also limitations, but it is important to recognise that with all low carbon technologies there are technical limitations that will not allow them to work effectively as a standalone heat source without substantial infrastructure changes.

Market insight has shown a trend for hybrid heat pump and solar thermal systems, which is a direct response to the limitations of solar alone, which is applicable to daylight hours only and can be limited during winter by the shorter days. Solar Thermal therefore only ever makes up a proportion of the load. Solar Thermal can also be a complex install so is not applicable for refurbishments where time is at a premium or a site is not secure as it can be at risk from damaged. M-CHP, cogenerating onsite heat and power, will be used as a baseload product to maximise its running hours and is certainly an option when it comes to addressing peak hour demands but may be cost-prohibitive.

A heat pump could well be standalone in a new build, but we would assume that most commercial buildings do not have sufficient electrical supply, and upgrading the existing electrical infrastructure can immediately become cost-prohibitive for a project.

Using a modelled ‘benchmark’ existing hotel site, with an average of 224 daily guests, each using an average of 50 litres of hot water per day provided by a traditional boiler-fired heating system we can assess the potential of ASHP when replacing the traditional boiler system.  A commercial ASHP offering optimum operation (91,611 kWh electrical input for 190,773 kWh thermal output to meet annual DHW demand of 4,088,000 litres) will be limited to 55 degrees, the maximum stored water temperature is 50 degrees and therefore the heat pump output restricted to approximately 191 MWh. The annual cost savings can be modelled at £1,127.27 giving a system payback of 23.1 years if we estimate equipment costs to be £16,000, with £10,000 of installation costs. Carbon savings are positive, compared to smaller heat pumps which model with negligible gains, in this case saving 28,237 kg CO₂/annum which is truly advantageous.

What this example demonstrates is that there is a core business decision to be made when balancing carbon savings against project cost payback for standalone ASHP systems. Existing commercial buildings can achieve significant carbon savings through the utilisation of the correct technology.

Reducing carbon emissions is ethically the correct thing to do, and ASHP, Solar Thermal and m-CHP will all achieve savings to varying levels, but realistically the cost of the technology must also be considered when making any decisions regarding significant upgrades to the building’s energy systems, which means, unless there is major governmental legislative intervention or funding, there will almost certainly be a compromise of cost, carbon saving and payback.

Learn more about Adveco FPi Air Source Heat Pumps

Hybrid Approach

Adveco’s Technical Director Bill Sinclair discusses the energy challenges facing facility managers when it comes to achieving sustainability across the built estate in the latest issue of Tomorrow’s FM Magazine.

Read the full article here

Taking better care of heating and hot water

Adveco considers how the healthcare sector can take better care of heating and hot water systems for a cleaner future. Read the article on Health Business

Working Towards A Cleaner Future

The UK was one of the first countries to recognise and act on the economic and security threats of climate change. The Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels, through a process of setting five-year caps on greenhouse gas emissions termed ‘Carbon Budgets’. This approach has now been used as a model for action across the world and is mirrored by the United Nations’ Paris Agreement.

Last November, energy secretary Greg Clark triumphantly declared the energy trilemma to be over in a speech to Parliament which established a new set of principles to steer future development of the energy market. A market that can embrace the concept that cheap power is now green power.

The ‘energy trilemma’, so-called because of its summary of three key challenges that faced the sector, typically the need to decarbonise power generation in the cheapest possible way while guaranteeing security of supply, has been the core principle behind much of the government’s energy policy. “It is looking now possible, indeed likely, that by the mid-2020s green power will be the cheapest power. It can be zero subsidy. The trilemma is well and truly over,” declared Clark. Adding that, “Moving beyond subsidy does not mean to say we are reverting to the dirty, polluting world of the past, it is one where green energy can be cheap energy.”

However, there are still considerable challenges ahead if the government, UK businesses and those operating within the built environment are to ultimately meet the demands of the Climate Change Act.

A Cleaner Grid

Zero carbon energy sources are becoming more abundant and efficient, which is naturally having a positive impact on the grid’s carbon factor. As a result, carbon intensive generation sources, like coal power stations, stay offline for longer, and this has led us to a pivot point in our reliance on carbon intensive generation techniques. The carbon intensity, according to the National Grid, has “almost halved in a five year period.”

In January 2018 the carbon intensity of the grid ranged from 121 g/kWh to 443 g/kWh, a period where demand fluctuated from 23.78 GW to 49.11 GW. We can compare the winter range – around 300g/kWh – with the summer months, where load on the grid should reduce considerably without the heating demand. However, summer months carbon emission rates exceeded 200 g/kWh, and averaged out at approximately 175g/kWh, which is surprising because we would expect technologies such as photovoltaics (PV) to be performing at their optimal outputs.

In fact, the July centred heat wave created a higher carbon intensity than April or January.  We can presume this was due to higher electricity consumption by air-conditioning systems and possibly a fall in output from wind generation systems which would, in theory, be more effective in poor winter weather.

Increasing efficiency across the built environment

The tenth draft of the Government’s Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) was released in July 2018 and has already had a significant impact on the way we view and use electricity with lower emissions that have cleaned up its image as a fuel compared to gas. Under SAP 10 emissions in electricity have dropped by more than 50%, a significant change that takes emissions down to 0.233kg CO₂/kWh. Gas emissions have also reduced by 2.8% within the same time frame, but gas is going to be relatively constant when it comes to emissions because it is not generated, but rather is effectively mined. This means the end-product does not get any cleaner, the reduction is a product of improved pumping process and less distribution loss. Before this substantial change, electricity was considered 2.4 times dirtier than gas, today that ratio has dropped to almost one to one.

These developments are obviously having a considerable impact on the mind set towards electricity as an energy source for heating and hot water to serve the built environment. For a starter, new commercial builds with a small requirement for domestic hot water (DHW) load will benefit in a big way from installing any heat pump technology.

But for new builds exhibiting a large DHW load then there remains a solid argument for employing a gas-fired water heater. However, the smart approach is to also use a heat pump to create a hybrid system to pre-heat the DHW system. This gives a project considerable carbon advantage from the heat pump, because the COP is higher when the output temp is 50 instead of 65, and very high when the ambient is warm. In addition, running costs are kept low by only heating water at the cost of gas, be it from the gas or from electric with a minimum 3.5:1 COP.  This type of hybrid system approach also reduces the maximum available electric load the building needs, allowing for an incredibly carbon-efficient hot water system, and in warmer weather reduces a buildings dependency on gas to nearly nothing. There are also benefits to be had from reducing grid demand at peak times, and then utilising the heat pump at its most efficient.

In theory, the RHI for air-to-water heat pumps should also be re-evaluated. Previously the minimum efficiency to be eligible was a SCOP of 2.4, as this was the boundary where gas was a more carbon effective energy source. Not to encourage carbon intensive buildings, but that boundary could be lowered and still have a positive carbon impact on the existing building stock. And if a heat pump with a lower efficiency was selected, capital outlay would, in theory, reduce as well.

So far so good, but how successfully is this delivering against the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as set out by the Climate Change Act?

Half way there?

The encouraging news is that greenhouse gas emissions have already been reduced by approximately 42%, so we are just over halfway to the end goal, but the problem is the first 50% is the easy bit – increasing renewable energy sources and limiting coal fire stations – but what do we do to continue?

It is expected that 2018’s emissions in the final reckoning will be of a magnitude of 468 megatonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂ E). Shorthand for a collection of greenhouse gases, CO₂ E includes carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Carbon dioxide is the main target, making up 81% of all greenhouse gasses in 2016, and for this reason it’s the element that we think of reducing when targeting for a greener future.

The Government’s Carbon Budgets have so far been achieved through a mix of incentives, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and Feed in Tariff, and regulation (Building Regulations Part L). In this way the UK has been able to meet the requirements of Carbon Budget one and two, as well as achieving the third budget’s requirements (37%) well before the 2022 deadline. Despite Clark’s recent positive comments, the Committee on Climate Change estimates that we are not on target to meet Carbon Budget four, requiring a 51% decrease, by 2028.

The government stated in its 2017 Clean Growth Strategy “In order to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the periods 2023-2027 and 2028-2032) we will need to drive a significant acceleration in the pace of decarbonisation.”

Where we can start to make a real difference

The National Grid has already begun to outline potential future energy scenarios, but it is down to our industry to assess how low carbon technologies can be deployed in a meaningful way to address these scenarios. This means considering the effect of lower carbon intensity electricity on renewable technologies with emphasis on existing, as opposed to new builds.

From the systems already outlined it is clear there remains a strong argument for employing gas alongside renewables in new builds. When it comes to the refurbishing of existing building stock, that is where the greatest advances can be potentially made across the built environment. In such a scenario though, it is never going to be worthwhile for the building owner to put in a heat pump for preheat or as a standalone hot water source. From a renewables perspective it is going to be better to put in solar thermal. But when an existing building needs to be improved then it cannot be cost-prohibitive for the owner. This means it needs governmental support which generally makes solar thermal cost-optimal if the project site has the capability to support an installation.

As with all refurbishments, the physical limitations of a site will always drive or preclude certain options. Without doubt, gas infrastructure remains the most common for the provision of heating and DHW and a more open-minded approach to driving cleaner heat through a mix of replacement gas and renewables is what will really progress us towards the 2028 targets while also delivering considerable benefits to those living and working in these buildings.

 

Adveco expert Bill Sinclair, Technical Director Bill Sinclair, technical director, Adveco Ltd.

Bill Sinclair, technical director, Adveco, which also trades in the UK as A.O. Smith Water Heaters, brings almost twenty years’ industry experience in mechanical engineering. Having joined the company in 2011 as technical manager, he today holds responsibility for product and system development, as well as managing the company’s bespoke design and engineering teams.

Prior to joining Adveco, Bill held the role of installation manager at Millside Heating Services Ltd, and technical manager at Rinnai UK Ltd.