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Decarbonising Heat in Buildings: Putting Consumers First


From an evaluation of the GB housing stock, it is clear that a mosaic of low carbon heating technologies will be needed to reach net zero. While heat pumps are an important component of this mix, our analysis shows that it is likely to be impractical to heat many GB homes with heat pumps only. A combination of lack of exterior space and/or the thermal properties of the building fabric mean that a heat pump is not capable of meeting the space heating requirement of 8 to 12m homes (or 37% to 54% of the 22.7m homes assessed in this report) or can do so only through the installation of highly disruptive and intrusive measures such as solid wall insulation. Hybrid heat pumps that are designed to optimise efficiency of the system do not have the same requirements of a heat pump and may be a suitable solution for some of these homes. This is likely to mean that decarbonised gas networks are therefore critical to delivery of net zero. 3 to 4m homes1 (or 14% to 18% of homes assessed in our analysis) could be made suitable for heat pump retrofit through energy efficiency measures such as cavity wall insulation. For 7 to 10m homes there are no limiting factors and they require minimal/no upgrade requirements to be made heat pump-ready. Nevertheless, given firstly the levels of disruption to the floors and interiors of homes caused by the installation of heat pumps, and secondly the cost and disruption associated with the requirement to significantly upgrade the electricity distribution networks to cope with large numbers of heat pumps operating at peak demand times - combined with the availability of a decarbonised gas network which requires a simple like-for-like boiler replacement - is likely to mean that many of these ‘swing’ properties will be better served through a gas based technology such as hydrogen (particularly when consumer choice is factored in) or a hybrid system. A recent trial run in winter 2018-19 by the Energy System Catapult revealed that all participants were reluctant to make expensive investments to improve the energy efficiency of their homes just to enhance the performance of their heat pump. They were more interested in less costly upgrades and tangible benefits, such as lower bills or greater comfort. This means that renewable gases including hydrogen as heating fuels are a crucial component of the journey to net zero and the UK’s hydrogen ambitions should be reflective of this. The analysis presented in this paper focuses on the external fabric of the buildings, further analysis should be undertaken to consider the internal system changes that would be required for heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, for example BEIS Domestic Heat Distribution Systems: Gathering Report from February 2021 which considers the suitability of radiators for the low carbon transition.

Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics
Countries: United Kingdom

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