How do we maximise the potential of heat pump technology to help us achieve net-carbon objectives?

on | 6 min read
The roadmap to achieve the UK’s 2050 net-zero carbon target is still relatively unclear. This creates uncertainty about the implementation of low carbon solutions in the industry. The lack of direction in turn affects the ability to plan for future developments. Difficult specification choices, doubts over futureproofing strategies, and lack of preparedness for regulatory changes, are just some of the factors affecting heat pump specification in new developments and existing buildings in both residential and commercial sectors.
blocks arranged that spell net zero

If we are to maximise the potential of heat pump technology, there are five main areas that should be considered:

  • Heat pump technology awareness
  • A clear trajectory for transition to low carbon economy
  • Legislation and financial support
  • Provisions for interim solutions
  • Alternative heat pump technologies

We already know that decarbonising heat plays a pivotal role if the 2050 net-zero carbon targets are to be realised. There are many technologies that could contribute to decarbonisation, including hydrogen technology, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and electric batteries. It is however, the electrification of heat that plays a vital role in grid decarbonisation and this will need to be accelerated if we are to achieve the expected 75-80% carbon emissions reduction by 2025.

The success of grid decarbonisation will depend on the electric generating capacity of renewables. To ensure we make the best use of the available grid capacity the specification of heat pump technology needs to be accompanied by implementation of energy storage solutions, efficient direct electric technology and utilisation of heat networks. At the same time, specification of all low carbon solutions will need to grow significantly in the UK over the next decade and beyond. A wider uptake of these technologies in the construction industry would be encouraged if the government’s support was extended to all heat pump solutions and complementary technologies.

Can better heat pump technology awareness increase specification of innovative heat pumps?

To boost interest in innovative heat pump technology amongst end users, a government endorsed campaign could focus on the reasons behind the shift to low carbon and offer insight into the available solutions and product ranges. This should not be limited to traditional heat pump technologies. It could also include other low carbon options, such as smart controls, energy storage, hybrid systems and hot water heat pumps. To maximise the impact of any financial support schemes, information for both new build projects and retrofit should accompany the campaign.

Capturing the interest of end users could fuel the demand for low carbon solutions and properties that implement them. It could also provide a soundboard for feedback exchange that facilitates improvements and innovation in technology design, specification, and installation.

The need for a clear trajectory for our transition to a low carbon economy

A realistic trajectory by the government for achieving 2050 net-zero and the interim 2025 75-80% reduction targets, would help prepare the industry for the forthcoming challenges. Innovation within the industry could be encouraged by a detailed roadmap and meaningful proposals on how carbon reduction targets could be achieved using heat pump technology to deliver heat, hot water, and cooling. This is pertinent as comfort cooling is increasingly being specified due to growing end user demand, and heat pumps can offer efficient low carbon comfort cooling due to their design.

As a part of the roadmap, the current skills gap needs to be addressed with the aim of transitioning from gas to electric and renewable solutions. Greater availability of low carbon technology specifiers, designers and installers could help speed up decarbonisation. This may result in a wider uptake of low carbon technology and could therefore help deliver more developments faster and at a lower cost.

net zero building blocks

Can regulations focused on energy efficiency targets and wider financial support have an impact on the uptake of heat pump-based technology

Financial support of schemes with a larger investment in retrofit could demonstrate a commitment to low carbon solutions. This could be further supported by a regulatory framework. The Future Homes Standard consultation signals a shift in the specification, and the final published version of the updated Approved Document L (expected by the end of 2021) should confirm this through regulatory enforcement.

For the industry to have the freedom to innovate and deliver solutions capable of achieving net-zero targets, regulatory frameworks need a strong focus on carbon reduction and energy efficiency targets. Shifting the focus from specific technologies to regulation, energy efficiency and carbon reduction could encourage the specification of systems that are most appropriate for each project.

The delays to the publication of the Approved Document L have caused some uncertainty and projects have continued to be built that may require costly retrofit in the future. The industry needs financial support. Expanding this financial support to heat pump-based systems and complementary technology could help accelerate the specification of hybrid solutions. These can offer design flexibility and high efficiency, but only when the specification of full heat pump solutions does not meet the project objectives or is not possible due to the limitations of the project. Hybrid solutions could be instrumental in overcoming retrofit challenges of the future, with a sensible, future-proofed and stepped approach to decarbonisation.

How can interim solutions make our transition to net-zero smoother?

The announcement that gas connections will not be available for new properties from 2025, although not yet a reality, is another clear indicator of the urgency of electrification. The increase in specification of low carbon solutions, such as heat pumps, could lead to more connections to the grid and therefore increase the demand. To continually support the growth of heat pump specification, we need to ensure we build a stable grid with sufficient capacity. To this end, we should increase grid flexibility through the specification of flexible energy solutions, rather than concentrate on increasing the peak load. Flexible energy storage systems could help to create a reserve of energy in homes that can control the peak demand on the grid and enable more efficient energy management in homes. With the right financial and infrastructure support the specification of flexible energy solutions could be increased, in turn supporting a wider specification of heat pump technologies.

The industry should consider situations where low carbon specification could be inhibited by choice. The current high cost of electricity can create conditions where tenants or owners of new buildings with low carbon technologies are seemingly penalised. Carefully considered legislation around fuel poverty and market mechanisms that guide the cost of energy may prevent such scenarios, and would help stimulate low carbon technology implementation.

The value of futureproofing should be considered for all projects. Some project objectives support non-heat pump installations and certain hybrid technology very well but may be subject to retrofit in the future. If the heating system infrastructure is primed for this with relevant flow temperatures and flow rates, it will allow for a simpler and more cost effective retrofit in the future. 

Which alternative heat pump technologies prepare developments for a net-zero future?

Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation (GDHV) specialise in sustainable heating, hot water, cooling, and ventilation solutions. Our expertise in heat pump design and manufacture resulted in two innovative solutions that have already been installed across a large number of residential projects of all sizes and across all types of tenures.

The Zeroth Energy System is an ambient communal loop that utilises water-to-water in-apartment heat pumps and a refrigerant free ambient network to deliver heating, comfort cooling, and hot water. The design goal was to drastically increase system efficiency. As a result of the increase, the Zeroth Energy System can reduce energy bills for end users and significantly reduce the building’s carbon emissions through the minimisation of distribution losses via application of the ambient loop. 

The Edel Hot Water Heat Pump, with a coefficient of performance (COP) of 3.36, is a highly efficient system for delivery of hot water in residential buildings. The solution consists of ducted systems that supply external air to an air-to-air heat pump mounted on top of a water cylinder, providing one integrated unit to renewably heat and store water for domestic use. This internally placed hot water heat pump is ideal for meeting regional targets, such as on-site renewable contributions and aesthetic requirements, and allows for design flexibility. In modern, well-insulated buildings, hot water is often the dominant energy load. The efficient delivery of hot water by the Edel Hot Water Heat Pump reduces carbon emissions of the dwelling. This allows for additional consideration of insulation and for fossil fuels to be removed from the site through specification of a space heating solution which is electrified. For example, through direct-acting panel heating, high heat retention storage heaters.

To discuss low carbon strategies for your new project or to see how innovative solutions such as the Zeroth Energy System or Edel Hot Water Heat Pump can help to futureproof your project, contact our team of HVAC specialists.