Russell Dean, Head of Residential Heating and Ventilation at Mitsubishi Electric, charts the road to net-zero that requires heat pump technology
The UK has set an ambitious target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and since the pledge was made in 2019, the challenge of decarbonising heating and hot water production has been at the front of the conversation.
When trying to reduce the carbon impact of a building, heating and hot water are important factors to consider, as they make a significant contribution to a building’s emissions. In fact, they create over a third (38%) of the total carbon emissions in the UK. Luckily, the technology to heat buildings in a more energyefficient, renewable way is already available – in the form of heat pumps.
How heat pumps can push us to net-zero
Heat pumps are central to reaching this decarbonised future, with the Carbon Trust finding that they have the potential to deliver CO2 savings of up to 70% compared to conventional electric heating, and up to 65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler. Though it varies depending on the time of year and type of pump, around 66% of the energy needed to heat buildings with heat pumps comes from natural sources, which significantly reduces the amount of fossil fuels burned when using a traditional gas boiler.
The other 34% is derived from electricity, which, if sourced from sustainable sources such as solar or wind, reduces the carbon impact of a heat pump to zero. The Climate Change Committee has estimated that 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed by 2050 to help achieve the UK’s net-zero goal, and the government has already set a target of 600,000 installations per year by 2030. Along with offering renewable heating, heat pumps allow for a reduction in running costs and increased efficiencies in both commercial and residential buildings.
Heat pumps are rapidly becoming the first choice for building managers planning renovations or new builds, as they are designed for both retrofitting and installation in new property. The technology can even integrate with existing heating systems, allowing for a hybrid situation if necessary.
Decarbonising cities with heat networks
Another reason that heat pumps are becoming so popular is that they are easily scalable, so they can be used in large commercial or multi-residential buildings. A network of heat pumps is an efficient way to reduce the carbon emissions and running costs of a large group of connected properties.
In the fight for net-zero, the UK Government is looking to heat networks as an important solution, with over £330 million in funding offered in the form of the Green Heat Network Fund and Heat Network Investment Project (HNIP).
The Climate Change Committee believes that by 2050, heat networks could supply 42% of the heat and hot water in UK buildings, second only to its 52% target for singular heat pumps. Despite this target, heat networks don’t yet account for enough of the UK’s heating and hot water production. Greater uptake would improve the efficiency of a large portion of residents and businesses across the country, not only working towards a net-zero future, but helping to tackle the soaring price of energy sweeping the UK.
We can’t afford to wait for hydrogen
Though it is often labelled as the ‘silver bullet’ for energy, deploying hydrogen as a one-size-fits-all solution will only delay the switch to low carbon heating further.
The UK Government’s own strategy only expects around 10% of total UK domestic heat demand to be met by hydrogen by 2030. Hydrogen is also very energy-intensive to create, and in some instances produces up to 20% more emissions than burning natural gas. If we don’t consider alternative solutions, it will be a serious challenge to decarbonise the UK by 2030.
Though green hydrogen is the cleanest iteration, where hydrogen is produced without any greenhouse gases using clean electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind, it still requires battery storage technology to provide a constant supply, which can be expensive. The UK Government’s plan to use hydrogen to heat homes will likely be driven by the less sustainable blue hydrogen, which still uses fossil fuels in the creation process.
Without 100% carbon capture at the source of production, this solution alone won’t let us reach net-zero. Implementing low-carbon heat technology into our homes and commercial buildings will be essential for reaching net-zero and reducing the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. For a lasting solution that will benefit the environment and the residents of the UK, heat pumps are an ideal choice.