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Unlocking the carbon challenges faced in construction

Author : Duncan Wisely is a director at GeoZero

13 November 2019

The UK has become the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

Government and Parliament have adopted the Committee on Climate Change, a statutory body giving independent advice to government, recommendations to target net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the UK by this date (i.e. at least a 100% reduction in emissions from 1990).

The scale of this task is not insignificant but unlike many previous reports, the imminent threat of irreversible climate change means that organisations are starting to question how they can reach net zero. In the Net Zero report, the committee made clear that meeting this target is dependent on early and decisive action to strengthen policy.

Now the Government must act. Nearly half of the energy we consume in the UK is used to produce heat. Heat is the single biggest reason we use energy in our society.

Currently we meet under 5% of this demand with heat from renewable sources and we have identified that we need to increase this proportion. Energy use in homes accounts for about 14% of the greenhouse emissions.

These emissions need to fall by at least 24% by 2030 from 1990 levels, but are currently off track. In 2017, annual temperature-adjusted emissions from buildings rose by around 1% relative to the previous year.

In the 2019 Spring Statement, the Treasury (HMT) showed leadership in announcing an end to gas heating in new homes, but now must engage more with the delivery challenge for reducing emissions across the economy.

A current alternative to boilers is to use a gas fired CHP however in London at least, this may not be an option if the new London plan is approved in the coming months as this states “It is not expected that gas engine CHP will fit this category with the technology that is currently available”.

What options do we have if not gas as a source of heating?

It is proposed that gas boilers will be replaced by low-carbon heating systems in all new homes built after 2025 in a bid to tackle the escalating climate crisis.

The Department of Energy & Climate change has stated “In order to reduce emissions from heating UK buildings there is an increasing focus on heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks”. 

This seems to be a good solution as we are now generating more zero-carbon energy with total renewable generation increased by 9.2% January to March 2019 on the same quarter last year to 31.1 TWh.

As a result, renewables’ share of electricity generation was a near record 35.8 per cent in 2019 Q1, up 5.3 percentage points on the share in 2018 Q1, and reflective of increased capacity. Recently a £100m fund has been announced by the government so this should see a further increase.

What are other countries doing?

In Norway, one third of households have a heat pump and they represent 95% of heating systems in new homes. In France, the number of heat pumps sold each year is 8-10 times higher than here.

In Europe, sales of heat pumps accelerated in 2018 reaching almost 650,000 units. This is a 12.9% increase from the previous year, totalling over 5.1 billion euros.

The promotion of heat pumps has been supported at a European level by the Building Regulation Directive, which has the objective of limiting the average energy consumption in most new buildings. Sales are primarily being driven by residential buildings applications.

What are the advantages of heat pumps?

Zero carbon emissions on site are none if renewable energy is used for generation.

There is no combustion involved reducing air pollution. Heat pumps also require less maintenance and can-do cooling as well as heating.

The Government has made progress in the proposed The future Homes Standard by stating “We anticipate that the installation of heat pumps, particularly air-to-water and air-to air heat pumps, will play a major role in delivering low carbon heat for homes built to the future standard”.

So, it looks like we could have found a solution. However here comes the impasse as the proposed standard quite rightly points out. “It is not feasible to ramp up installation rates of heat pumps straight away to the current level of gas boiler sales (over a million per year) from the current level of 20,000 per year, not only due to the lack of market development but also, because there are not enough qualified heat pump installers”.

This will take a considerable time to implement and unfortunately time as we all know is not on our side. This coupled with the impending inability to use gas fired CHP will only exasperate the situation.

GeoZero believe we have the key that could relieve the bottleneck in heating (and cooling) our buildings with zero carbon emissions with none of the drawbacks and time delays with the current thinking.

We have been manufacturing packaged heat pumps and heat Networks for over 10 years that have the following advantages;

• We use standard components and have in excess of 14000m2 of manufacturing capacity in our UK facility.

• There is no need for specialist installers. The unit is pre tested and commissioned in the factory saving valuable time and money on site. The unit comes as a single package therefore installation time is greatly reduced saving further time and money on site thus avoiding costly programme delays.

• Single point responsibility. From the inception to completion and beyond with maintenance and remote monitoring giving cost certainty and eliminating risk

• A packaged heat pump can be a direct replacement for a CHP unit to provide the required heating.

• It is more cost effective to install one large heat pump rather than individual units also the loads can be matched more closely to the demand saving energy and capital cost.

• The only maintenance required is in the central plant negating the need to enter individual dwellings for maintenance or repairs. This is a massive benefit for the client as they don’t need to be present for maintenance or repairs.

• If an individual heat pump fails no heating is available whereas with a packed system because it is modular there will be nearly 100% guaranteed heating/cooling therefore providing an uninterrupted supply of heating and cooling.

• The controls are central and can be remotely monitored for energy consumption and fault finding together with preventative maintenance.

• Frees up valuable floor space in the building, as a heat pump does not need to be installed in each dwelling.

With a life expectancy of over 20 years as well as the benefits listed above and GeoZero’s existing technology, we believe we have the ability to help the industry become carbon Zero in application in the very near future.

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