A potential switch to hydrogen burning, increased reliance on connected technology and the entry to the market of tech giants such as Amazon are among huge changes anticipated for UK heating
Boiler giant Worcester Bosch has warned that the heating and hot water industry must prepare for two decades of dsruptive technology, driven by the growing ubiquity of sensor-connected appliances and a push towards lower carbon building functions.
Prime among these technology changes is the potential move towards a hydrogen gas grid. The manufacturer believes a switch to supplying the gas offers the best route to reducing carbon in heating, when costs, user-familiarity and efficiency in the existing housing stock is factored in.
But at the same time, rapid advances in connected technology and the Internet of Things are poised to drastically alter the landscape for heating, the manufacturer believes.
Worcester Bosch managing director Carl Arntzen said: “There is lots of stuff going on around heating and energy - there will definitely be disruption in our industry in the next five to ten years…Digitalisation will increasingly come to heating and hot water and from an internet of things point of view, we haven’t really even got started yet.”
Mr Arntzen added that the increasing number of sensors being integrated into components would provide new opportunities for manufacturers and contractors alike.
“There are billions and billions of connected devices becoming available now and boilers will be no exception. We are already testing the technology which will enable [manufacturers and contractors] to increasingly be able to intervene without going to site.”
But beyond this, he noted, it would offer the enticing prospect of complete new ways of working. “A whole bunch of new services will be becoming available and it opens the doors to the prospect of companies providing heat, rather than a white box. You might not even buy the boiler from us in future.”
Mr Arntzen stresses that naturally, such developments wouldn’t mean the manufacturer would stop making boilers.
He also says that some of the big guns in online retail world were becoming more active in the UK. “Amazon offers heating in the US, although it is electric based, and we know they are talking to the industry over here – they are talking to us and they are talking to our competitors. It is purely a matter of time enter the UK heating industry.”
The company believes that heat pump technology will not be the universal answer to lower carbon that some. However, Worcester Bosch emphasises that the technology, which it does produce in lower volumes to boilers, will provide significant benefits to new build housing, where the buildings can be designed to optimise the heat pump.
Worcester Bosch’ has published a white paper, ‘The Future of Fuel’, which sets out the company’s reasons for backing a hydrogen-based future.
This change to the gas grid will naturally require significant technology change from the appliance upwards.
A three-phase roadmap is set out in paper that urges government to ensure sufficient funds are available for research and development, while also committing to ensure sufficient infrastructure is in place for a hydrogen switch and that heating engineers are supported.
The company is itself already working on prototype appliances that are intended to more efficiently burn hydrogen gas to ensure it can match the heating performance of the current gas grid, while curbing carbon emissions.
Neil Schofield, head of external affairs with Worcester Bosch, said that both government and industry alike do not expect the current gas grid to switch entirely over to hydrogen, even though it is likely to be a core component when compared to emerging technological approaches.
He said, “There will still be difficult pockets that will probably still burn methane, perhaps synthetic natural gas that you can produce from black bin waste or biogas that is based on anaerobic digestion.”
Martyn Bridges, director of technical communications and product management as Worcester Bosch, said that adapting buildings to make use of hydrogen for heating represented a significant cost, albeit it one that is a fraction of the money required for electrification.
However, he warns that it would be a “brave government” to take a stance on transforming the grid for heating. Mr Bridges said it was unlikely that the current government coalition will have the stability to undertake anything other than preliminary background work.