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Viability fears raised over single heat technology approach for new homes

Boiler maker Vaillant is critical of recent report calling for an end in connecting new homes to the gas grid; heat pump trade group argues the findings highlight the long-term potential of electric solutions

Relying on one fuel type or heating technology for new build housing will restrict the UK’s low carbon transformation ambitions, a leading gas appliance manufacturer has argued. Concerns over implementing the use of a single type of heat technology in all new UK homes have been raised following recent calls for an end to connecting new build properties to the gas grid within seven years.

The influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last month published a report demanding urgent and wide-ranging changes in government policy to improve the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock.

Among several recommendations made to transform the country’s housing stock was the provocative call that all new buildings from 2026 should not be connected to the gas grid, with heating coming instead from electric solutions and backed with a focus on insulation.

Although the CCC’s recommendations are not a formal commitment to introduce an end to gas heating in new homes, H&V News understands that serious consideration is being given to conclusions in the findings around gas heating in new homes.

Viability concerns

Boiler manufacturer Vaillant has responded to the report by arguing that a singular approach to heating new build properties at a national level was not viable.

The company said in a statement that a mixed technological approach that combines focuses around insulating homes to reduce energy consumption, alongside using heat pumps or boilers powered by hydrogen and other green gas, would best meet the country’s heating needs. All attempts to transform heating to lower carbon initiatives were also dependent on supporting effective use of smart controls for heating systems, as well as heat network solutions for certain projects, the manufacturer added.

Vaillant argued that both gas and electric heating solutions had unique challenges that still needed to be overcome to effectively support the government’s Clean Growth Strategy.

The company noted that in the case of heat pumps, the technology was already widely used in mainland Europe where it proved to be cheaper to run than many gas boilers if correctly commissioned and installed.

Vaillant stated, “However, it is essential to consider the grid capacity to support the increasing demand for electricity. After all, it’s not just heating of the future that will demand electricity - with the 2040 ban on fossil fuel vehicles, cars and other forms of transport will also be vying for their share.”

The company said in the statement that turning to hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas was an area that a number of boiler manufacturers were exploring in order to try and realise cost and operational efficiencies.

Vaillant said, “The UK does not yet have a viable hydrogen industry that is capable of producing and utilising hydrogen in the required quantities, but there is industry-wide commitment to understanding the challenges with many organisations stepping up to the mark to make this a reality.”

Electric heat potential

Heat Pump Association Chair Graham Wright said the CCC’s report reflected the potential benefits electric heating could have in reducing domestic carbon emissions via the use of heat pumps.

He said, “Although a major short-term shift to solely heat pumps would be impractical, extension of the gas grid in rural areas severely risks creating a much bigger negative legacy for the future. What cannot be denied is the ability of heat pump systems of all genres to significantly reduce carbon emissions, even at quite modest system efficiencies, compared to combustion-based heating.”

The association claimed that current heat pumps technologies can supply up to 3kW of heat for 1kw of energy input.

A statement from the body said, “In many systems, heat is transferred from outside air or from warm exhaust air. In other types of system the heat can be drawn from the ground, or water sources such as rivers or waste water.”

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) pressure group said it welcomed the wind-ranging findings in the CCC’s report as an example of the need for significant changes to ensure more energy efficient homes.

UKGBC did not itself back any particular approach to heating in its response, but said that it backed calls for ensuring 29 million existing homes in the UK were energy efficient to realise national low carbon emissions. The same properties should also be resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The group said that 80 per cent of buildings expected to be in use by 2050 were already built, making it vital transform these homes to be more energy efficient as a national infrastructure priority.

John Alker, UKGBC policy and places director said, “This year will see the long-awaited review of Building Regulations and the publication of a government action plan for home energy efficiency.”

“These are both key opportunities to respond to the climate challenge with robust regulations and targeted investment that drives up standards and delivers better quality homes for people across the UK. We need to move beyond incremental change, and rapidly speed up the transition to a housing stock that is cleaner, greener, smarter and future-proofed.”

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