Interest in the wider use of heat pumps in commercial buildings is soaring and is likely to grow even more dramatically thanks to new low carbon targets set by the Prime Minister, according to James Cooper, Business Development Manager for Heat Pump Technology at Lochinvar.
Boris Johnson placed heat pump technology at the heart of his strategy for a ‘green industrial revolution’ to help power the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and help deliver a net zero economy by 2050 – and that was before he made his commitment on Earth Day to go even faster on decarbonisation.
The new target of a 78% cut in emissions by 2035 (compared with 1990 levels) is a significant step up from the government’s earlier position of a 68% reduction by 2030 en route to net zero by 2050.
There are several specific targets for the built environment in the proposals including wider deployment of low carbon heating solutions, better re-use of building materials, and higher standards of insulation. The government is also pressing ahead with plans to end the sale of domestic gas boilers by 2033 and remains committed to a huge scaling up of heat pump use.
The Prime Minister had already challenged the industry to be installing 600,000 units a year by 2028, which is a major step up from current levels. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) had already set a target of one million a year by the 2030’s towards an eventual total of 19 million that it sees as essential if the UK is to achieve its zero carbon ambitions.
The industry is clearly willing to get behind this strategy, but there is a considerable skills gap that will need to be closed to ensure there are enough trained people to carry out the work to the required standard so that this highly energy efficient technology can achieve its carbon lowering potential. Industry estimates suggest more than 17,000 new heat pump installers will be needed over the next decade if the government’s targets are to be met.
Heat pumps can achieve CoP’s comfortably above four and five depending on the application and climatic conditions, but only if they are properly designed, installed, commissioned, and maintained. There are also particular technical challenges around designing heating systems that operate at the low temperatures produced by heat pumps and this is not widely understood – even by many already in the industry.
While the political focus may be on improving the energy performance of homes, there is potentially even greater benefits to be had from an increasing the emphasis on commercial buildings and heat networks that can supply multiple facilities.
The technical challenge in commercial buildings is often very different, but the rewards are potentially even greater. Many commercial buildings experience short peak demand periods when high volumes of hot water are required – leisure centres and hotels being particular examples. This makes them ideal for a heat pump solution.
At Lochinvar, we are experiencing increased demand for ‘hybrid’ systems where heat pumps are combined with high efficiency ‘conventional’ technologies like gas-fired boilers and water heaters to improve operating performance where a fully renewable system was not an option either for financial or technical reasons.
This ‘hybrid’ or integrated approach is proving particularly effective in retrofit projects because they avoid the potentially disruptive and costly process of replacing other system components.
Heat pumps can also be installed as part of multi-valent systems where energy is gathered from several separate sources which can include other renewable technologies, such as solar thermal. In such a system, the use of a properly sized thermal store becomes the critical element and allows the design engineer to provide an extremely flexible, but high output solution.
The thermal store, effectively, acts as a large, low resistance header that can accept heat from multiple sources. This smooths out the system capacity to maximize efficiency. It also minimises legionella risk because it does not store domestic hot water.
Integrating technologies in this way requires good control strategies and a thorough commissioning process to ensure the various parts of the system work in correct sequence. The system should be set up to ensure the renewable/low carbon technologies are the first to respond to any call for heating and hot water; with gas-fired boilers only there to provide back-up.
Integrated/hybrid solutions are clearly proving popular with specifiers and end users because they are an excellent way to meet performance targets at a lower capital cost than going for a totally renewable option. They deliver a faster return on investment for commercial building owners, which means they are more likely to be taken up on a greater scale and, therefore, will deliver more energy and carbon reductions in the long-term.
Hybrids also reduce running costs and extend the operating life of the equipment by only using the gas-fired products in back-up mode. This is another key to reducing carbon. If you have to replace products on a regular basis, you will increase your overall carbon footprint significantly.
Heat pumps could also play an even bigger part in reducing carbon emissions through their use in distributed heat networks for homes, public sector buildings, shops, offices, sports facilities, hospitals, and universities – so also delivering an important social welfare benefit.
There are around 14,000 such networks in the UK, providing heating, hot water and/or cooling to almost half a million consumers. Since they aggregate heating and cooling supplies across a neighbourhood or entire district, these networks can unlock otherwise inaccessible large-scale renewable and recovered heat sources, such as waste heat and thermal energy from rivers – ideal for capture and use by heat pumps.
Thanks to the availability of these different flexible approaches, there are now more commercial buildings where heating and hot water services are provided by heat pumps, many of which have been provided at reasonable capital cost for clients.
The potential for rapid expansion of this market once we move back into more normal economic conditions is extremely exciting and gives us a fighting chance of achieving the Prime Minister’s challenging low carbon goal.
If you have any questions about anything arising from this article you can contact James Cooper on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07973 803401.
You can also learn more about our heat pump packages here.