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Heating policy takes centre-stage in low carbon policy debate

Mike Childs, policy head with campaign group Friends of the Earth offers a preview of one of the key themes of next week’s 2019 H&V News summit

Heating policy has been put centre-stage of the national debate on how to prevent catastrophic climate change, Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research for Friends of the Earth argues.  However, he noteds that growing recognition of the need to curb carbon emissions poses major questions for industry and government on how our homes and offices will be heated.

Mr Childs will be the keynote speaker for next week’s H&V News Future of HVAC summit, which is taking place at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London on October 3.

In a special preview of the event, he says that growing global awareness and acceptance of a need for drastic action on carbon emissions will need to be matched in industry discussions around how heating is provided in future.

Mr Childs says, “There is no doubt that climate change is an urgent and pressing issue globally, including here in the UK. News of extreme weather is now commonplace, with records regularly broken.”

He adds, “According to a recent poll, 64 per cent in the UK agree with the statement ‘time is running out to save the planet’. This compares to a figure of 70 per cent in Germany, 74 per cent in Brazil and 57 per cent in the US. Few people believe their governments are doing enough about this: only 23 per cent in the UK agree, compared to 20 per cent in Germany, 23 per cent in Brazil and 26 per cent in the US.”

Despite these perceptions, Mr Childs says that it was important to question how many may be aware of the role domestic heating pays in contributing to climate change and global carbon emissions at present.

He notes that a well-insulated Victorian home, using a modern gas-fired boiler is capable of producing 2.75 tonnes of greenhouse gasses. This, he adds, is equivalent to the emissions generated from driving 11,770 miles in an average car.

Mr Childs says that it is now vital to create awareness of these issues and the potential solutions being considered by industry.

He says, “There is a debate under way on the future of heating – which is of course what the Summit is about. Some say the easiest route is to switch to hydrogen burning gas boilers; making the hydrogen from natural gas through Steam Methane Reformation and capturing the carbon dioxide released and storing it underground in the process called CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). But this ignores the fact that there are no CCS facilities in the UK, and that anyway at best it only captures around 80 per cent of emissions. Basically this approach is equivalent to ‘do nothing for 10-15 years’.

The better route - and the only route that is compatible with reducing greenhouse gas as fast as is necessary, is to introduce a well-funded area-by-area home insulation and ‘eco-heating’ transformation programme. While it would be coordinated by local authorities, it would require private businesses to do an energy efficiency revamp and change the heating system in one go. Hopefully industry can back this approach. “

Mr Childs says that in defining eco-heating, the term could primarily relate to heat pumps with hot water cylinders, or heat batteries in cases where space is limited in a property.

He adds that there was also an argument for hybrid heat pumps, which could be used alongside zero-carbon hydrogen produced through electrolysis, to be included in this definition of eco-heating solutions.

Mr Childs says, “This would help to manage demands on the electricity grid and also would allow for excess renewable energy in the summer to be stored as hydrogen, for use in the winter when energy demands are greatest.”

“However, there are some challenges, particularly around householders’ knowledge; their trust in ‘new’ forms of heating; and in desirability.”

Friends of the Earth says it would be happy to work with industry to provide householders with impartial advice, potentially alongside a consumer advice charity such as ‘Which?’ or another body. However, consumer cost is a vital issue to address.

Mr Childs says, “Upfront costs need to be much lower for householders. The Renewable Heat Incentive is not fit for purpose: it doesn’t cover enough of the cost and it spreads payments over seven years. It basically excludes anyone who hasn’t got £1000s of spare cash in the bank.”

Lessons learned

Mr Childs adds that the heating industry needs to learn a key from the likes of Tesla, Dyson and Apple, namely that good design and marketing can make products aspirational.

he says, “You might not think it, but the heating industry are the caped-crusaders coming to help us beat catastrophic climate change. Because if you aren’t that, then you are the arch-villain leading us to a dystopian future.”

Mike Childs will be presenting the keynote presentation, The Effort for Climate Change, at the 2019 H&V News Summit. More information on the programme can be found here.

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