In spring 2019, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced that ‘fossil-fuel heating systems’ would not be installed in any domestic new build properties from 2025 as part of the Future Homes Standard. These systems include gas and oil boilers. The decision was part of the government’s plan to tackle climate change and growing carbon emissions to create a zero-carbon country by 2050. On November 18th 2020 Boris Johnson also announced a 'Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution' .
According to the Committee on Climate Change, around 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from our homes, mainly from gas boilers. They state that:
‘From 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. They should be heated using low-carbon energy sources, have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation, and be timber-framed where possible.’
The announcement left a lot of people wondering, what will replace gas boilers in these homes? Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular alternatives to fossil fuel-based heating systems.
Heat pumps are one of the most obvious replacements. These appliances work using a refrigerant to absorb the natural heat that can be found in the ground, air or water. This refrigerant is compressed to further increase the temperature, which can then be used to heat the cold water in the system. Once the water is fully heated, it can be pumped to your radiators or supplied to your hot taps.
An air source heat pump is the easiest system to install as it uses a fan to draw in surrounding air over the heat exchanger, whereas a ground source heat pump requires pipework to be installed on the land around your home to extract ambient heat from the ground. This makes the latter system more expensive due to installation costs.
A heat pump doesn’t need any gas or oil to run like your traditional boiler. Instead, it works solely using electricity, when coupled with electricity that comes from a renewable source it won't directly produce any carbon emissions.
The current issue with mains electricity is that fossil fuels are burned in order to generate it, and therefore most heat pumps aren’t entirely zero-carbon. However, if you were able to create electricity on your land, via solar panels for example, then the heat pump could run using completely renewable energy, especially if you have battery storage. Pairing solar panels with this kind of system can reduce running costs by around 40 per cent. Although you’ll need to invest in the solar panels, it’s likely that you’d make this cost back within just a few years. The added bonus of creating electricity in this way is that any excess can be sold back to the National Grid.
There are lots of advantages to using heat pumps. A good heat pump installation will tend to have a longer lifespan than gas boilers and many offer cooling in the summer months as well as heat during winter.
An electric boiler works in much the same way as a gas one, using electricity instead of gas to heat up the water. These are usually much more compact than gas versions and are just as efficient.
As with heat pumps, an electric boiler won’t be 100 per cent CO2 neutral if the electricity that it uses is produced from burning fossil fuels, however, using solar panels or other forms of renewable energy would reduce your carbon footprint.
Although solar (thermal) heating systems won’t eliminate your use of gas, they could reduce your usage of fossil fuels by around 60 per cent. This is a considerable saving, particularly if every home in the UK had this system installed.
Unlike solar panels that generate electricity, these systems use heat from the sun to warm up your domestic hot water. They use solar collectors that are installed on the roof of your home. These collectors can absorb the heat from the sun, using it to warm water that is then stored in a hot water tank, much like in a conventional boiler system.
These solutions can be installed for use alongside your existing gas boiler or may even work independently, though this does depend on how much sunlight is available. The system is suitable for flat roofs, slanting roofs and wall mounting, working in both the horizontal or vertical position. The solar collectors can produce warm water in colder weather too, making the system ideal for the UK. Solar thermal systems also require a lot less space for fitting when compared to solar PV.
Irrespective of this legislation around fossil fuel free homes in 2025 these alternative ways of heating your home could still seriously reduce your home’s carbon footprint and should be considered. To future proof your home for renewables you should consider retaining space for a hot water cylinder.
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