Domestic heating systems not suited to heat pumps and hydrogen

The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) is urging government to consider the suitability of current UK domestic heating systems to facilitate the transition to net zero.

Retrofitting homes with low-carbon technologies, like heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, will be key to meeting the UK’s Net Zero targets. However, many of the different heating systems that circulate heat and hot water in properties are not currently appropriate for these emerging technologies, nor are they adequately covered by strategy and policy work.

To outline where improvements need to be made and how different domestic systems can be aligned with the country’s long-term goals, the HHIC has launched a comprehensive whitepaper entitled ‘Heating up to Net Zero’. It has been researched and written by members of HHIC, the Hot Water Association (HWA), and the Manufacturers Association of Radiators and Convectors (MARC). It seeks to clarify what the challenges are, as well as what is required for them to be overcome.

Cylinder retention needed for low temperature systems

Stewart Clements, director of the HHIC, comments: “A mix of low carbon technology along with lower temperature heating systems will be required to meet the government’s target of net zero by 2050. As most replacement heating appliances are due to a distressed purchase, there is a tendency for the rest of the system to be forgotten.

“Homeowners need support to ensure they can plan and upgrade their heating and hot water systems. This will ultimately come down to government initiatives, which is where the whitepaper aims to provide a framework for formulating new policy.”

One of the key examples given in ‘Heating up to Net Zero’ is that many homeowners are currently removing hot water cylinders. However, these are needed for the supply of hot water if a low temperature heat generator, such as a heat pump, is to be fitted in the future. Replacing old cylinders with better insulated and controlled models, that incorporate high recovery heat exchangers and are suitable for low temperature / low carbon systems, should be incentivised by a simple-to-understand government scheme.

From a practical perspective, mandating system balancing of the heating system will help to drive innovation. Since this was highlighted in the boiler plus review, many control manufacturers now produce flow controlled TRV’S, which are a simple solution to balancing the heating system. This will become an important part of the commissioning process for low temperature systems.

Installer training a critical element

Aside from a focus on the heating system, the HHIC has also drawn attention to the critical role of installer training. They are a key part of the jigsaw for decarbonising heating and hot water systems and are the main point of contact with the homeowner. For those both entering the industry, and for individuals who already possess a wealth of experience, getting to grips with new technology will be vital in overall successful implementation.

Stewart concludes: “There are many challenges ahead, but also a number of opportunities, not least in providing extensive retraining for the UK installer base. The Heating up to Net Zero paper looks at these in detail, highlighting the different ageing systems that circulate heat and hot water in our homes, and aims to ensure they are adequately covered by future government policy.”