Renewable Energy for Your Self-Build

Self-building is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and the potential to create an energy efficient home has become an important factor in this.  

There has never been a better time than now to invest in carbon neutral technologies with renewable energy prices falling and incentives to go green. This is particularly true for self-build projects which are achieving the greatest results.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the UK government has ruled that gas boilers will be banned in all new homes built after 2025. The government’s “future homes standard” will require all new builds to have low-carbon systems, such as electric heat pumps. Any new homes built from this year on are expected to achieve a 31% reduction in carbon emissions to ensure industry is ready to meet the new standards by 2025.

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It’s invariably cheaper to merge renewables into a new build project than trying to retrofit into an older house. You have the advantage of being able to include renewable energy in your initial self-build planning.  This means that you can install renewable energy systems that complement each other without running into restrictions as well as being able to choose the best options available without the need to compromise.

In order to build a sustainable home, you will need to consider what types of renewable energy systems you can use to power your home. Though most people want to save money, many will put a greater priority on cutting their emissions and lowering their carbon footprint. Fortunately, there are several renewable energy systems available which can both reduce your carbon emissions and cut your energy costs.

As heating accounts for most of our home’s energy demand and carbon emissions let’s start by looking at renewable heating options. 

Air Source Heat Pumps

The most popular type of air source heat pump (ASHP) in the UK is the air-to water model which absorbs heat from the outside air into a liquid refrigerant at a low temperature. Using electricity, the pump compresses the liquid to increase its temperature. It then condenses back into a liquid to release its stored heat. They distribute heat via a wet central heating system and work much more efficiently at a lower temperature than a standard boiler system would. For this reason, they are more suitable for underfloor heating systems or larger radiators, which give out heat at lower temperatures over longer periods of time. ASHPs can still extract heat when air temperatures are as low as -15°Celcius!

The perfect place for an air source heat pump is outside either at the back or side of your property, ideally in a sunny spot. They require good air flow in order to work at their most efficient as they draw air in through the sides and the back of the unit and then allow cold air to exit from the front once the heat has been extracted. You will also need to bear in mind the space you require indoors for the compressor and a hot water cylinder.

On average the supply and installation of an air source heat pump will cost in the region of £8,000-£14,000. This is more expensive than many traditional heating systems, but the benefit to the environment is considerable and they are currently highly incentivised.

In 2011, the UK government launched the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a scheme aimed at encouraging the uptake of renewable heat technologies amongst householders, through financial incentives.

To be eligible for RHI payments all renewable technologies must be:

  • listed as a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified product
  • issued with a MCS certificate

Technologies that are covered by the domestic RHI are:

  • biomass (wood fuelled) boilers*
  • biomass pellet stoves with integrated boilers providing space heating*
  • ground to water heat pumps
  • air to water heat pumps
  • solar thermal panels (flat plate or evacuated tube only) providing hot water for your home
  • water source heat pumps can potentially be eligible for the Domestic RHI – they are included in the definition of a ground source heat pump.
  • certain cooker stoves and high temperature heat pumps may also be eligible

If you are eligible, you’ll receive RHI cash payments quarterly over seven years. The amount you receive will depend on a few factors, including the technology you install, the latest tariffs available for each technology and in some cases metering. After seven years of receiving RHI payments, a combination of these plus savings on your heating bills should see you making back a good chunk or in some cases all the initial investment.

Though ASHPs run on electricity they are cheaper to run than traditional heating sources as they should use less electrical energy than the heat they produce. They are generally very efficient and are known for their reliability and consistency. The efficiency of a heat pump is measured by their Coefficient of Performance (COP). That is the ratio of heat produced per unit of electricity consumed when pumping the heat. A COP value of 3 means that you get 3kWh of heat output for every 1kWh of electricity used to run the pump. The average annual heat demand for most homes in the UK is at 12,000 kWh. If you divide the annual heat demand by 3 kWh, the heat production per unit of electricity, your heat pump would use 4,000 kWh of electricity. The average price of a kWh in the UK is around 14.37p. The cheapest price per kWh is around 12p and the most expensive is 24p. Say your electricity was priced at £0.13p per unit your annual heating costs would be around £520.

When calculating the size of heat pump that you require for your self-build the general principle is the bigger the house, the bigger the heat pump you will need.  A 100 sq. m house may require a 5kW air source heat pump. This will double to 10kW for 200 sq. m houses. You have the advantage of being able to ensure that your self-build is properly insulated which is vital if you are to enjoy the full benefit of an air source heat pump.  

In order to reduce the cost of running your heat pump as well as your carbon emissions you can generate your own electricity by installing solar panels on your roof. The number of solar panels that you can install on your roof will determine the amount of electricity you can generate. More on solar panels to follow.

Another type of heat pump is the air-to-air model. While the system works to produce warm air that is then circulated by fans in order to keep your home nice and warm, it cannot heat your water at the same time. They can generally only be used for one function at a time. Air-to-air heat pumps are also not eligible for the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

Ground Source Heat Pumps

A ground source heat pump system (GSHP) harnesses naturally occurring heat from deep underground by pumping water through it in pipes. The heat pump increases the temperature and the heat produced is used to heat homes or hot water. Ground source heat pump systems are made up of a ground loop (a network of water pipes buried underground) and a heat pump at ground level. A mixture of water and anti-freeze is pumped around the ground loop and absorbs the naturally occurring heat stored in the ground.  The water mixture is compressed and goes through a heat exchanger, which extracts the heat and transfers it to the heat pump. The heat is then transferred to your home heating & hot water system. A ground source heat pump can increase the temperature from the ground to around 50°C.

Installing a ground source heat pump system is perfect for self-builds as it involves a lot of soil upheaval in your garden or drilling deep down into the earth. Plenty of room is required for digging machinery and the installation process can be quite disruptive. How big the ground loop needs to be will depend on how big your self-build is and how much heat you need. The ground array for a GSHP can be either a horizontal grid of pipes which should be 1.2m below ground level or two or three vertical boreholes which are likely to be more than 70m deep.

Like ASHPs, GSHPs run on electricity, but they are even more efficient than air source heat pumps. For every unit of electricity used by the heat pump, three to four units of heat are captured and transferred. This means that a well installed ground source heat pump can be 300-400% efficient in terms of its use of electricity. Installing a GSHP can lower your fuel bills especially if you are replacing conventional electric heating or an old oil or LPG boiler. 

We are all aware that currently electricity is one of the more expensive fuels particularly when you compare it to gas and oil. However, the highly efficient performance of GSHPs means they can convert electricity into 2-4 times as much heat. To give an example if you were paying 14.4/kWh of electricity, each thermal kWh of heat produced by a GSHP with a SCoP of 4 will cost 3.6/kWh. Because gas boilers aren’t 100% efficient this is potentially cheaper than gas. The reason for this is that average gas prices stand at 4.17p/kWh so for a gas boiler with an efficiency of 93% to deliver a full thermal kWh it would cost 4.46p/kWh which is more than a heat pump.

It isn’t cheap to install a GSHP, typically around £18,000 to £30,000 for a horizontal ground array or £25,000 to £40,000 for a borehole system depending on the size of system you choose. However, GSHPs are an attractive choice for self-builds because after you’ve made the initial outlay, the Renewable Heat Incentive payments are higher for GSHPs compared to ASHPs, meaning you will save more in the long term when opting for a ground source heat pump. 

To create an energy efficient home, it is essential to ensure it is well-insulated as this will affect the performance of either an ASHP or a GSHP.

Solar PV

Solar panels also known as photovoltaics (PV), use the sun’s energy to create electricity and only require daylight not direct sunlight to work. They generally work better on a south facing roof at a pitch angle of about 30 or 40 degrees. You can fit panels on a flat roof, or on a frame on the ground but a sloping roof is usually the easiest. Though south facing is optimum, anywhere between east and west is possible. When designing your self-build, it’s important to ensure that your solar panel system is not going to be overshadowed by trees or other buildings as this will have a negative impact on the performance of your system. Space is a key consideration. A 4kW solar PV system, usually consists of 10 to 16 panels, and requires around 25m²-30 m² of roof space.

Solar PV is far more affordable today and can be paired with air source heat pumps or used as a standalone system to generate electricity for your household. A typical solar panel system supply and installation with 30m2 of panels will cost between £4,500 and £6,500 and is getting cheaper. If you include a renewable battery in the package the cost will rise to between £7,000 and £10,000. In recent years, the price of installing panels has decreased by 70%.

To make the most of the electricity generated while the sun is shining you would ideally be at home during the day to use appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers etc though you can of course set your appliances to come on during the day when you’re out and about. If you’re generating more electricity than you need during the day the surplus will be fed back to the National Grid for someone else to use. If you want to avoid having to use electricity from the Grid during the night you can invest in a special renewable battery system in order to store any unused energy generated during the day.

Alternatively, you can take advantage of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) a government scheme devised so that energy suppliers pay their customers for the renewable energy that they export to the grid. You will need to sign up to a SEG tariff with a company, otherwise you won’t get paid for your excess electricity and will export any you generate but don’t use to the National Grid for free.

Currently the cost of domestic solar electricity is around 8p per kWh which is a lot less than the 14.7p average domestic import cost from the grid which means you will definitely save money on your electricity bills. This cost has increased by an average 4.75% each year over the past decade. Just taking this fact into consideration will make installing solar PV extremely worthwhile as you will be protecting yourself against future increases in the cost of importing power from the grid.

Solar Thermal

The sun is an infinite renewable energy source which can also be used to heat your hot water using solar thermal systems. Solar thermal panels are ideal for a self-build project. They work by transferring the sun’s heat within special pipes on your roof via copper wires inside. There are two types of solar thermal, Flat plate collectors and Evacuated tubes. Flat plate collectors are heavier, take up more room, and can be cumbersome to install on certain roofs while Evacuated tubes tend to have lighter components which tend to be more fragile but are easier to manage on the roof.  Solar thermal systems work best when sited on a roof facing between southeast and southwest, with little to no shading. The optimal angle for solar thermal is quite steep to maximise their performance throughout spring and autumn,

To decide if installing solar thermal is suitable for your build, you’ll need to consider how many occupants will be living in the property. Roughly speaking, you’ll need one metre squared of panel per person, but larger families who use more hot water than single occupants are likely to get the most benefit.

The installation of a typical domestic solar hot water system, with 4m2-6 m2 of panels will cost you between £2,500 – £5,000.

Solar thermal systems are eligible for RHI which means you will be able to get some of your initial layout paid back over 7 years.

In the summer, they should provide all the hot water you require for your home. In the winter, it’s a lot less, however over the course of a whole year, roughly 60% of your hot water needs could be provided by your solar thermal install.

Other than the initial installation cost and a little maintenance, there are no running costs with a solar water heating system as it’s free energy. Solar thermal systems are very low maintenance. Aside from an annual check by you, your system should only need professional servicing every 3-5 years.

Basically, the world is your oyster with a self-build project. You have a range of options to look at, some of which we’ve covered here, but none of the considerations of existing systems you would have with a traditional home.

A final consideration to take into account when making your self-build more sustainable is that your house value will ultimately rise too. With a super energy efficiency rating, your home will be more attractive to potential buyers, especially knowing that they won’t have to go through a ‘transition’ to clean energy later on as the work is already done. That means renewable energy is a true investment into your present and future wealth.

Expect All of UK’s Energy to be Sourced from Renewable by 2035, Says PM

UK Energy

In early October, England’s Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson established a plan of sourcing 100% of the country’s energy from emission-less sources. He hopes to reach carbon neutrality by 2035, increasing the demand for sustainable technological advances. Before examining the major societal and technological shifts necessary to achieving the goal, we must assess the UK’s drive for sustainability.

The Drive for Sustainability

Nearly 43% of England’s electricity source derived from fossil fuels in 2019. The energy sources release greenhouse gases into the environment during the combustion phase, creating adverse ecological and human health effects. The pollutants alter the atmosphere’s natural composition, hindering its ability to maintain life-sufficient temperatures of Earth’s surface.

Over time, the emissions raise the global temperature, creating a ripple effect of environmental degradation. The series increases agricultural limitations, water scarcity, forced migration and other biodiversity-minimizing impacts. The PM plans to reduce England’s greenhouse gas emissions production to enhance conservation and climate change prevention efforts.

Another driving factor enhancing the country’s reliance on renewable energy is human health protection. In high emission regions, individuals have a greater risk of developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses. More citizens also develop lung cancer in polluted areas, increasing the demand for emission-less energy sources.

Making the complete transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy requires significant technological and systematic changes. The UK can support its sustainable goal by improving battery storage systems, building a clean electric grid, adopting efficient devices and expanding offshore wind farms.

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Battery Storage Advancements

Solar is one of the most recognizable forms of renewable energy. It effectively converts non-depletable sunlight into electricity without producing emissions. Though many individuals invest in solar power, placing panels on their roofs, the technology has limitations.

Panels directly produce electricity from sunlight, immediately transferring the energy into one’s outlets. Store large quantities of solar power have created challenges within the industry. Environmental scientists and engineers studied the source’s limitations and developed sustainable solutions using hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen is a renewable energy source, which professionals are using to expand the storage capacities of solar power. Solar energy feeds through an electrolyzer, splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The system stores hydrogen in tanks until the energy demand rises.

The technology transfers hydrogen into a fuel cell system during peak electricity hours, producing a stable energy source. Hydrogen can remain in storage for extended periods, helping production centers access enough power to support an entire grid.

If the UK adopts hydrogen storage technology, it can generate and store enough renewable electricity to support regional demands.

Building the Clean Electric Grid

The country must also convert all conventional, fossil-fuel-powered electric grids into clean energy systems. Professionals can follow the model produced in Monterey, California by Vistra ate Moss Landing. The company converted an old power plant into a renewable energy storage facility using large-scale battery power.

Professionals placed a 1,200 megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery in an abandoned smokestack, holding enough power to support the region’s peak-hour needs. Using established energy production space to produce and store renewable energy can help England effectively develop a sustainable grid system.

Adopting Compatible and Energy Efficient Tech

The UK must also transition away from fossil-fuel-reliant technology to support its 100% renewable energy goal. Maintaining a consistent power source requires energy-efficient devices. When our gadgets over-consume power, they may quickly deplete the supply, creating limitations.

Energy-efficient systems and appliances can heat and cool our homes, power our lighting and regulate our generated electricity consumption patterns. Individuals must additionally adopt electric vehicles to support the transition, fueling the transportation sector with emission-less energy. The country plans on advancing its production methods, producing enough power to support the carbon-neutrality goal.

Expanding Offshore Wind Farms

The PM hopes to achieve its 100% renewable energy objective by expanding wind power production. He plans on investing nearly £160 million into the offshore wind sector, minimizing interference with land use. Boris also expects the increased production rates to support 250,000 new green jobs, increasing job security while decreasing ecological degradation.

The Sustainable Impact on Society

UK residents can expect the renewable energy transition to affect their daily lives significantly. As emissions decrease, individuals’ health and well-being may improve, minimizing their risks for fatal illnesses. They can also anticipate a country-wide transition towards sustainable technology, ditching all fossil-fuel-reliant devices for electric versions.

Written by Shannon Flynn

How Startups Can Make a City Smarter

Smart Cities

The world is progressing towards the development of smart cities, and with each passing day, the role of digital technology is increasing. Innovations in science and technology are becoming increasingly in frequency, and as gradually this tech reaches a level of development at which it is commercially viable.

These innovative technologies have the power to transform our lives, not to mention the way we interact with our surroundings and affect our urban environment. Take, for example, Elon Musk, the eccentric inventor who founded Tesla. Initially, he was not taken seriously, but now ‘smart’ electric vehicles are commonly accepted as the future of transportation, and this will have profound effects on the urban area.

A smart city is a broad term, applying to a wide spectrum. But there is no better way to define a smart city than by using the definition of the Smart City Council. According to the Smart City Council, a smart city uses digital technology to enhance the livability, sustainability, and workability of the city. The city itself should be built keeping in mind the demands of the future.

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Smart City Trends

Recently, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) surveyed a number of people in Southeast Asian cities. This survey shed light on the needs and trends that embody a smart city, helping to clarify what the masses envision for the future and the present day.

•    Creating a smart city is turning into a necessity

Smart cities aren’t something of the distant future. And the next generation won’t be the one creating it. The wheel is turning, and smart cities have become a present day reality. With a growing population, the threat of climate change, technological advancements, and the expansion of urbanization, needs and attitudes are changing. More and more, people are looking to develop and live in smarter cities.

•    Connectivity is the heart and soul of a city

What makes a city smart, according to the people? Connectivity. It’s the life blood of a city. Gone are the days where people are fine with limited connectivity. Now, they wish to be connected to the internet at all times. Initiatives like smart transportation, free Wi-Fi, and e-learning tools are sought after.

•    The conservation of the environment is imperative

Smart cities have become a sought-after way of life because of the benefits associated with it. The largest being the positive effect it will have on the environment. As the world moves towards digital platforms, the carbon footprint of companies will decrease.

The Role of Startups in Smart Cities

How do startups fit into the picture? They’re seen as a way to achieve smarter cities, delivering solutions that are far advanced to the technologies that we know today.

Developing a smart city is no easy feat. The support and encouragement of startups is a start, as economies are partly dependent on local innovation. And this will create a ripple effect. For a city to be smart, there must be a given standard of living, in part, that means employment opportunities. And a future which is driven by technology and innovation will help provide jobs and increase GDP.

Creating a Startup, is it Enough?

What type of startup makes a city smarter, and do all types of startups suffice? A locally innovative startup has the potential to make a city smarter. Businesses will be more likely to invest in technologically innovative products.

Remember, the cities of today, with their current level of development, also resulted in urban pioneers deciding to introduce novel concepts and measures. Let’s take Paris as an example. The city didn’t just evolve haphazardly. Instead, people like Baron Haussmann, a French entrepreneur who renewed Paris in the 1800’s, modernized the city completely.  

Before we think about achieving the true definition of a smart city, we too must lay the founding pillars. Let’s just say startups that encourage investment in technology are the founding pillars. The private sector has a huge role to play in encouraging such startups, and whilst not all startups may bring the same level of benefit to a city, the development of a startup unicorn within a city can have profound effects beyond mere the job creation and taxation benefits.

Role of Private Sector

It isn’t easy to begin a start-up. It requires a lot of financial backing, and startups have up to 90% chance of failing. This may be because of poor goal development or a lack of funds. Partnering with a private sector company makes sure that a startup is able to channel through the first few years.

You might wonder, why would a private sector company invest in a start-up? It’s obvious that the deal would be beneficial for the small business. But what do big companies have to gain from it? As mentioned in ‘The Complete Guide to Partnerships for Startups & Corporations’, big companies also profit from such deals.

There are various startup success stories that have taken a huge chunk out of the pockets of private companies. Whether it’s Uber or Airbnb, such startups are digitally advanced as well as in high demand.

These are the types of startups that pave way for smarter cities and disrupt industries.  By missing out on the chance to own a chunk of these disruptive companies, private companies lose both profit and business. By partnering with them, they are able to retain their market share.

There are different ways that a private firm may choose to partner with a startup. This includes the following:

•    Giving funds (venture capitalists).

•    Offering corporate accelerator features to startups.

•    Delivering platforms for their operations.

•    Collaborating via startup competitions and thought leadership.

Types of Startups that matter

Partnership with the private sector? Check.

Providing jobs to the growing workforce? Check.

What else goes into ensuring that a startup contributes towards or benefits a smart city? The sector a startup works in matters greatly. As mentioned, those which invest in technology and innovation are where the future of our smart cities lie.

Here are just some of the niches highlighted by dataconomy that have the power to transform a city:

Transport

The city of tomorrow won’t be phased by slow-moving traffic. You won’t be stuck hailing for a cab, and following traffic information won’t be as big of a hassle as it is now. For this to happen, we need startups to focus on digitalizing the various aspects of transport. A company which helps in collecting traffic information in real-time and then telling commuters which route to take can make all the difference.

Such measures have already begun. In Manchester, which is already on its path of being converted into a smart city, you can now find ‘talkative bus stops’. It is a given that such technology needs both funding and human capital. While startups might have the latter, the public or private sector can help with the former.

Sanitation

Have you ever seen overflowing bins in your area? A smart idea and investment in technology can guarantee that such an incident never happens in the future. Digitalizing bins can allow the refuse collectors to know which bins are full. This can help them in ensuring the cleanliness of the city. Let’s face it, no city can be smart if it is not able to maintain sanitation.

Energy conservation

The city of the near future should use energy efficiently. This makes sure that we have a bright future for the generations to come. Startups can work on delivering energy saving solutions. Glasgow has already started adopting this. Their smart city plan, with 24 million pounds in funding, involves connecting the energy grid of the city to smart technology to monitor the energy consumption of the city and make the required changes. For example, escalators and lights in different areas are only activated when people use them. Someone needs to deliver such solutions. A startup can do so.

Has the transformation begun?

It is true that startups do have the potential to transform any city into a smart one. But, have they been able to put the money where their mouth is? Are there any examples of startups that have delivered a solution in any of the key areas?

There are a few examples that are available. Startups are currently delivering solutions to governments in an effort to make them smarter and more efficient. Ideas like SmartProcure, MuniRent, and NextRequest are just a few examples.

While NextRequest helps in coordinating public records, Munirent allows for easy transferability of heavy-duty equipment with other public offices and agencies.

Conclusion

It is safe to say that startups are one of the ways to realize the dream of creating a smart city. It is high time private and public sectors come together with small businesses to make a difference.

The future potential for cities is immense, and there is in doubt that with time, our cities will function in a way that is far superior to the systems we know today.

Written by: Jurij Radzevic

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jurijradzevic

Growth hacker with experience in digital marketing and SEO. Graduated from The University of Southern Denmark with a master’s degree in Marketing, Globalization, and Communication. Currently working as a Head of Digital Marketing at Valuer.ai in Copenhagen.

According to Industry Experts, An Earlier Shift to Renewables Would Have Lessened the Energy Crisis

Renewables Shift

Industry experts believe that renewable energy and low-carbon heating could have done a great deal to help reduce the effect of this winter’s soaring gas prices. The government needs to expedite the move to low carbon solutions sooner rather than later to assist in alleviating the gas supply problems of the future. 

The gas supply crunch has led to a spurt of government meetings with industry and the reassurance from the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng that “there is no question of the lights going out” and that the UK is “highly resilient”.

The UK is not alone in its energy crisis. Since the beginning of the year, wholesale gas prices in Europe have risen by 250%, the result of economic, natural and political forces. Globally, demand for energy has shot up, as China and other major economies bounce back from the pandemic.

According to Roger Fouquet of the London School of Economics, the supply issue shows that fossil fuels are inherently subject to wild price fluctuations, which occur at least once a decade.

He said:

“Price volatility is an inevitable part of the fossil fuel energy system. Renewables do not suffer from these market-related problems.”

Rob Gross of the UCL Energy Institute voiced the view that switching to renewable energy would mitigate the effects of fossil fuel price fluctuations but that the UK was still particularly exposed to international gas prices.

He said:

“Gas power stations set prices in the UK, particularly when demand is high and renewables output is low. Countries with a lower share of gas in their power mix experience less volatile prices and we should expect that here too.”

Dan McGrail, chief executive of RenewableUK, which represents wind energy companies, said the government should learn an important lesson from this energy crisis for future years.

He said:

The first priority for government and the sector is, of course, protecting consumers in response to this price surge. The only way to do that in the long term is to have an energy system powered by cheap renewables, with flexible storage, hydrogen and other low-carbon technologies to meet demand at lowest cost.”

He called attention to the fact that it was already cheaper to generate electricity by building a new windfarm, even before gas prices began to soar, than run an existing gas power plant. The growth of renewables has reduced the proportion of electricity the UK gets from fossil fuels from 60% to less than 40% in the last few years.

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Dan McGrail went on to say:

“The industry is working with government to accelerate investment in renewables, which is key to ending our reliance on gas for heating our homes and in heavy industries. Alongside massive investment in renewables, we need to shift the dial on electrification and green hydrogen production in the UK to meet net zero at lowest cost.”

Despite the lack of government subsidies, solar power has plummeted in cost in recent years. It is forecast to be the cheapest form of power within a few years exceeding even onshore windfarms. Chief executive of the trade body Solar Energy UK, Chris Hewett, said that solar power could continue to supply electricity during the winter months. Solar currently provides about 4.5% of the UK’s electricity but he said it was “eminently achievable” to triple this by 2030, at no cost to consumers, if the government paves the way by removing regulatory difficulties.

Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, said that even though UK electricity is partly generated by gas, domestic heat pumps that run on electricity could also reduce the UK’s dependence on gas.

He said:

“But even if all of the electricity used by heat pumps was generated by gas the much higher efficiency of heat pumps would still result in a reduction of gas use.”

However, as Fouquet notes:

“Wind and solar do suffer from intermittency problems. So, while accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources is welcome for environmental reasons, it is important to develop an energy system that is flexible to these intermittencies.”

There needs to be more investment in large scale battery storage technology which up until now the government has failed to do. Also though controversial, nuclear reactors could provide a steady stream of power to the grid to counterbalance the intermittency of some renewable energy. Plans to build a new fleet of reactors by successive governments over two decades, to replace the UK’s ageing nuclear plants have been mired in difficulties. The Trade union, Prospect, has called on the government to prioritise its strong domestic sources of electricity, including nuclear power, to ensure a safe and resilient low carbon future.

Another crucial measure that needs to be addressed is to reduce the amount of energy that is wasted. British homes are currently among the draughtiest and least efficient in Europe, but little has been done to improve this. The government introduced a scheme last year, the Green Homes Grant which was largely meant to get to grips with the issue of insulation. The grant was part of the government’s much vaunted push to Build Back Greener from the pandemic. However, due to poor administration it was scrapped by the Treasury in March this year after only 6 months, and nothing has yet replaced it. 

It will be tempting for ministers to go back to business as usual once the current crisis has passed. However, experts contacted by the Guardian warned that this crisis should be seen as a sign of things to come and that the government should introduce the package of measures needed to protect the UK’s gas supply and shift the economy to a low-carbon footing.

Rob Gross concluded:

“Ultimately, it will depend on the level of storage, interconnection and demand management to make best use of renewable resources and break the link between gas and power prices.”

What Part Will Heat Pumps Play in Achieving a Net-Zero Britain?

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a key low carbon heating system that will be vital in helping to decarbonise heat in our homes over the next decade. It is crucial that we address the challenge of installing these systems at the pace and scale necessary for meeting the UK’s net-zero targets. Millions of homeowners will have to change the way they heat their homes. Around 15% of energy is currently being used to heat our buildings and homes. This means that there are big carbon savings to be made if we change to low carbon renewable forms of heating.

Although heat pumps have been around for a long time take up has been slow due to issues with installation costs and practicalities. Most homeowners are not familiar with the technology so need to be able to access expert, impartial advice on how to make heat pumps cost effective for them. There is an abundance of information available now to help energy consumers understand the benefits of heat pumps.

Heat pumps are becoming more popular as people look for ways to decarbonise the heating of their homes. They work by extracting energy from the ground, air or water, and transferring this heat energy from one area to another in the same way that refrigerators or air conditioning units operate. They do still consume a significant amount of electricity. For example, for three units of heat energy produced by a typical system, around one unit of electrical energy will be consumed. If renewable electricity is used the system becomes carbon neutral. Heat pumps can be installed in most property types, but many people are still unsure about their benefits. Change needs to happen because if heat pumps do not become a normal fixture in people’s homes, the UK will not meet its net-zero targets. If we were to replace all oil boilers and half of our existing gas boilers with an air source heat pump, we could reduce our national CO2 emissions by 8%, or nearly 29 million tonnes.

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An important milestone on the UK’s path to net-zero emissions by 2050 was reached on Easter weekend when the electricity system was the greenest it has ever been. Low carbon energy sources made up almost 80% of power, there was no coal generation on the grid and just 10% of power came from gas-fired power stations. Several factors contributed to this achievement. It was a sunny, windy day on a bank holiday when factories were closed and coupled with a lockdown it was the perfect day to make the most of the UK’s renewable energy sources.

However, there is still a long way to go to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Key to meeting the net-zero challenge for homes is the scaling up of the supply chain. Firm targets and long-term investment from both the government and the private sector are essential to provide the confidence in demand which will allow the supply chain to invest.  

In November 2020, one of the headline ambitions in Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution was the commitment to a new target of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028. The government has committed to bringing an end to installing gas and oil boilers in new build homes by 2025. At the same time the government’s independent advisors on the climate change committee (CCC) has recommended a UK target of one million installations a year by 2030. A steeper deployment trajectory could result in 5.5 million heat pumps in homes cumulatively by 2030. The CCC also predicts that that around a fifth of heat will be distributed through heat networks by 2050. All of this is a sizeable ambition, and we will need collective action from policymakers, landlords, local authorities, businesses and homeowners to get us there. 

The government also raised the interim greenhouse gas emissions target for 2030 to a 68 per cent reduction on 1990 levels, up from 57 per cent before. This brings the interim target in line with the UK’s net-zero by 2050 goal, but this also means that the 2030 challenge is increased by 20%.

The CCC said:

“We firmly believe that we need to make the move away from fossil fuel boilers attractive, simple and fair for all.”

In order to speed up the installation of heat pumps across the UK financial incentives will be required for both social and private sector homes. Though the Green Homes Grant was blighted by problems and was closed to new applicants after only a few months it did at least raise the awareness of heat pump technology. The grant provided vouchers of up to £5,000 for primary measures including insulation and low carbon heating systems.

However, many people may not realise that there has been funding in place to help with the cost of installing heat pumps since 2011, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). To access the benefits of the RHI you need to be able to afford the upfront investment for the installation of a heat pump. If you join the RHI scheme, you receive a quarterly tariff payment for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of renewable heat you produce. This is paid quarterly over 7 years and goes a long way towards covering your initial outlay. The RHI scheme is due to close in March 2022. This scheme does not suit everyone of course and the government is said to be looking at hugely expanding an existing scheme called Clean Heat Grants to boost the take up of low carbon alternatives to traditional heating systems. Currently the Clean Heat Grant scheme is due to be launched in April 2022, run for two years and offer grants of up to £4,000. It has been rumoured that Boris Johnson would like to quadruple the scheme’s funding to £400m, extend its duration to three years and increase its starting point to £7,000.

It has also been said that the government are preparing a big advertising campaign for the new scheme sometime in the autumn to encourage people to replace their gas boilers, in the run up to the COP26 climate change conference in November.

If the UK is to reach its net-zero target by 2050 there needs to be a clear phasing date for fossil fuel heating which is in line with the phasing date for gasoline and diesel vehicles. This will support the renewables sector as well as give individuals and markets a clear signal of direction. With the lifespan of a traditional boiler being around 15 years, it would suggest that the latest the date should be set is 2035.

At this time less than 250,000 of the 29 million UK households are equipped with heat pumps. In 2019 just 27,000 heat pumps were installed in sharp contrast to the 1.7 million replacement boilers. The CCC has said that if the UK is to meet its ambitious net-zero targets by 2035, up to 15 million homes would need to be fitted with heat pumps or hybrid heat pumps by 2035.

Decisions made by the government now will have far-reaching consequences for the UK. The government is due to publish its long-awaited Heat and Buildings strategy this year and there is no time to lose on this vital policy area. The strategy needs to provide confidence and clarity around making heat pumps available to everyone and to stimulate the market investment that will make this happen.

If we are to have a heat pump revolution, we will also need greater investment and commitment to green jobs. Thinktank, Onward, estimated in a recent study that while the need to retrofit homes and ensure low-carbon domestic heating will create around 1.1 million new jobs by 2030, only 5,700 workers a year are currently training in these areas. This indicates a serious shortfall for what is required.

Around 23% of fuel-poor households in England live in social housing and for many other householders, the expense of a heat pump is prohibitive. This has led to 20 organisations including the Energy saving Trust to call for a Fair Heat Deal that will help give people on low incomes access to heat pumps and ensure that they are affordable to install and run.

We all stand to benefit from a future where we enjoy warm, well-insulated homes heated by low-carbon heating system technology. Heat pumps can and must help to lead the way in accelerating the UK’s transition to net-zero.