Climate change and decarbonisation are often described as the biggest challenges faced by our planet, with changes required in many aspects of daily life to reduce carbon emissions and waste. Domestic heating contributes to around 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions and large changes to the way we provide domestic heating and hot water will be needed to achieve the ambitious government targets of Net Zero by 2050 (or 2045 in Scotland).
For social housing providers, the decarbonisation of housing stock is a balancing act between reducing carbon emissions, managing tenant acceptance, and customer service, as well as being aware of challenges such as fuel poverty. Many local authorities have ambitious climate change targets for their local area and social housing needs to help in the drive to reduce carbon emissions and hit these targets.
Whilst many local authorities or housing associations have a new build program, and will therefore be driven by the Interim Part L and then the Future Homes Standard for new build properties, the upgrade and decarbonisation of existing housing stock provides a far greater challenge.
Decarbonisation of Existing Domestic Properties
Social housing is a good place to start the decarbonisation of existing properties. Social housing stock generally has better EPC ratings than privately owned housing. According to the 2018/19 English Housing Survey, 60% of housing association homes and 50% of local authority homes have EPC band A to C, compared with just 29% of owner-occupier and 33% of private rented properties.
Whilst policy and funding for the upgrade of existing properties has been described by the Environmental Audit Committee recently as “piecemeal” and potentially damaging, even before the axing of the overly bureaucratic Green Homes Grant, there is still opportunity for social housing to access further funding pathways announced by the Government in early 2021.
Accessing Funding To Boost Sustainability
The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund takes advantage of some of the re-routed Green Homes Grant funding, with further details of the Local Authority Delivery scheme extension to be announced later this year.
In the recent Sustainable Warmth: Protecting Vulnerable Households in England strategy, the government also committed £150 million through the Home Upgrade Grant (HUG) scheme to help low-income households in the worst-performing off-gas-grid homes in England become more energy efficient and cheaper to heat. Further information on how local authorities can access funding will be available this summer in advance of the Home Upgrade Grant scheme commencing delivery in early 2022.
These pathways, combined with the current RHI (to be replaced by the Clean Heat Grant in 2022) and the extension of ECO announced in the 10 Point Plan in November 2020, shows the desire is there to decarbonise existing social housing properties.
Which Heating Systems Will Improve Energy Efficiency?
The big question for many social housing providers is how to go about reducing carbon emissions and increasing the energy efficiency of existing properties. Reducing heat loss and improving the building performance via insulation and glazing improvements can only be of benefit too, regardless of which technology is used for heating and hot water.
Heat Pump Technology
Heat pumps are a tried and tested technology, used extensively in Europe and seen as the future for New Build properties.
With the government targeting a heat pump installation rate of 600,000 units per year by 2028, it’s clear this technology is seen as a solution for existing properties as well as new build homes. Eligible for funding schemes including the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), heat pumps are already being used by many local authorities to decarbonise their housing stock.
The key to heat pump success comes in the sizing and specification of the unit, ensuring that the right-sized unit is installed in the property. Manufacturers have a key role to play here in ensuring that they provide support to the sizing and specification of the unit, working closely with the housing provider to specify the right solution.
Understanding Heat Pumps
As heat pumps run a low temperature heating system, with typical flow temperatures between 35°C and 55°C, support needs to be offered to tenants to help them understand their new heating system. With the right-sized radiators and a correctly specified heat pump, no one needs to be cold. Tenants also need to understand that although their radiators will be operating at a lower temperature and may feel cooler to the touch, the room will still reach the required temperature regardless.
Having easy-to-use controls, well-trained customer support and plenty of information both online and in the property will all help the tenant to operate their heating in the most efficient manner.
Heat networks, also known as district heating, provide a great solution for densely populated areas such as flats and apartments. They are energy agnostic with many options for the fuel that can be used in the energy centre, from natural gas to renewables or waste heat from other buildings or processes. Heat Interface Units are vital for heat networks to enter homes and literally provide the interface into each individual dwelling to manage the heat provided through the communal network.
Hydrogen for Heating Homes
Hydrogen is the big question for many when it comes to the decarbonisation of domestic heating. Whilst it is unlikely to provide the “silver bullet” solution for all, it may provide a clean gas solution to decarbonise existing homes on the gas grid. With the government due to publish their hydrogen strategy in 2021, there is a strong desire for hydrogen to play a role in domestic heating.
The UK government is supporting trials in both hydrogen heating systems and the electrification of heat. However, if and when 100% hydrogen does arrive, it is likely to be rolled out on a regional basis from the mid-2030s onwards. This change would require either appliances to be upgradeable to run on hydrogen; customers to need a brand new hydrogen boiler; or the installation of “hydrogen ready” gas boilers that can be converted (using a small kit) in the field when hydrogen is introduced in the gas lines.
A 20% blend of hydrogen mixed with natural gas may arrive sooner as a stepping stone to 100% hydrogen. This provides significant carbon emission reductions but is much less onerous to roll out, as domestic boilers on the market today are able to run on a 20% hydrogen blend and as such no replacement of existing appliances is required.
Natural gas still has a role to play for many years to come. As an efficient and cost effective way of heating homes it cannot be removed overnight. Many local authorities will be able to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency by replacing older lower efficiency boiler stock with new, modern high-efficiency condensing boilers with load compensating controls.
What’s Next For Low Carbon Heating?
The next 12 months will be critical in defining how we decarbonise existing social housing properties, with the publication of the UK government Heat and Buildings Strategy and the hydrogen strategy due imminently. These strategies, combined with further information about funding pathways, are all likely to influence the choices made around heating systems.
Choosing the Right Heating Partner
What is certain is that there are no one-size-fits-all heating solutions for existing dwellings. Embracing a range of technologies depending on the property will be the key to success. It’s also important to choose the right partner to help you navigate the decarbonisation of social housing.
Ideal Heating offers wraparound support, from technology choices, design, specification and sizing right through to aftercare in the form of customer support, training, and technical support both on the ground and over the phone. Ideal Heating provides both energy efficient, low carbon heating options alongside tenant comfort and satisfaction.
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