Welcome Energy analyses the viability of heat pumps in decarbonising London buildings and how this technology could lend itself to district heating schemes further down the line.

Heat pumps for a greener London

The Carbon Trust recently declared that heat pumps would be an essential technology in the delivery of London’s 2030 net zero goals. Heating accounts for approximately 37% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) with 21% of that figure being from space and water heating.

Sadiq Khan’s ambition to make London net zero by 2030 must, therefore, answer the question of building heating – especially given that at least 80% of the capital’s building stock will still be in operation by 2050.

Natural gas, predominantly used in space and water heating, is responsible for 37% of GHG in London. As such, it is utterly vital that strategies for transforming London’s carbon profile include a comprehensive decarbonisation of its heating potential.

Fortunately, a combination of heat pumps and district heating maybe able to answer the call. Better still is that the UK government has already begun implementing massive investment and incentive schemes related to these technologies as part of its green new deal.

Since so much of London’s current building stock is set to stay, it is essential that any technology introduced to decarbonise it can be integrated with the pre-existing structures.

Heat pumps can be retrofitted to serve the needs of these buildings while offering massive near-immediate CO2 savings. The Carbon Trust is confident that these savings could initially be as much as 60-70% compared to conventional electrical heating and 55-65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler.

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Supporting green heat

It is expected that, as the carbon profile of the grid itself continues to improve, these savings will increase to 90-100% by 2050. So clearly heat pumps do present a viable course for decarbonising building heating however the technology will require bolstering in terms of occupant behaviour and legislation to be successful on the large scale.

“Retrofitting heat pumps and improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings are key to achieving the Mayor’s ambitious target for London to reach net zero carbon by 2030. However, delivering this at the scale needed will require the Government to step up investment and implement strong supportive policies.”

Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Greater London Authority

These policies take a variety of forms, instilling a culture of best practice among heat consumers, as well as improving the heat efficiency of the structures themselves, will be essential. Without these supporting initiatives, heat pumps may not prove cost effective since the initial cost of retrofit will be so great.

In addition, the Carbon Trust report found that actively engaging with flexible markets and demand side response can help make the technology more economically attractive whilst bolstering the overall resilience of the wider grid.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) hopes that the scheme will support 100,000 green construction jobs – a tantalising selling point in a post-COVID economy.

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A match made in heaven?

While it is still a fairly novel combination in the UK, the marriage of heat pumps with district heat networks has a long track record of success elsewhere in Europe.

There are major obstacles to overcome in combining the two, particularly the disparity of their operating temperatures. Heat networks typically operate at 80°C, however there are several means to circumvent this obstacle. Several heat pumps operating in concert over a narrower temperature range for example, as well as the their seasonal use to raise water source temperatures during the colder months.

Given the government’s recent announcement of a £40m heat networks scheme, part of which will be set up in London, it seems that Sadiq Khan plans to emulate the success of mainland Europe.

The potential for carbon savings, given the dominance of building heating in the accounting of London’s carbon footprint, becomes unprecedented when the integration of the two technologies is considered.

As such, the opportunity and pressure to integrate heat pumps, and subsequently heat networks, will only increase over time. Welcome Energy specialises in attending the needs of firms and property owners that wish to take advantage of district heating technology.

Welcome Energy offers provides comprehensive guidance on automatic meter reading and regulatory compliance as well as a stress-free billing services characterised by its flexibility, transparency and simplicity. To find out more about this offering, Welcome Energy can be contacted by phone on 020 3744 9518 or email at help@welcomeenergy.co.uk.