By Chris Caton, Product Director – Commercial Product Management for Ideal Heating, Groupe Atlantic UK, ROI & NA.
It’s been three years and three Prime Ministers since Theresa May announced the UK’s legally binding net zero target. This encouraged businesses to begin thinking long-term about how they can move their operations away from natural gas in favour of more sustainable energy sources.
The recent Part L building regulations, which came into effect in June 2022, saw an uplift in minimum building performance standards in a drive to reduce carbon emissions, but there are other factors behind the urgency to transition to more sustainable fuels.
The arrival of the current energy crisis and volatile prices, for example, have led to natural gas potentially becoming a risk to many firms’ balance sheets, requiring more considered action to help mitigate rising costs. Indeed, recent YouGov data has found that 60% of SMEs are having to pay higher energy bills than at the start of the year, and 44% say they wouldn’t be able to sustain price increases for more than 12 months.
As a result, 2023 is likely to see a renewed focus on moving towards sustainable heating systems, such as commercial heat pumps. These reduce reliance on fossil fuels for heating and help companies both protect themselves against what’s expected to be a difficult few years for energy prices and enable them to make the first steps on their journey to net zero.
Energy efficient, cost-cutting, and carbon conserving heating solutions
There are several key benefits of heat pump technology, most notably its ability to help decarbonise heating systems, lower running costs, and improve a building’s energy efficiency.
Unlike gas boilers, heat pumps don’t burn fuel to produce heat. Instead, they harness heat from the air, water, or ground outside a building. This free heat is absorbed by a liquid refrigerant which causes it to boil and vaporise. This gaseous refrigerant is then compressed to a high pressure, which raises the temperature of the gas significantly.
The gas refrigerant then enters a heat exchanger, where it deposits its heat into a building’s heating system via a pumped water circuit. As the heat is lost from the gaseous refrigerant, it naturally condenses back to liquid form to repeat the cycle.
Because heat pumps are capable of operating up to four times more efficiently than traditional boilers because heat is transferred rather than generated, they have the potential to produce four units of heat for every one unit of electricity that they use. This means that their use in commercial buildings can reduce carbon emissions by 65-70% compared to traditional gas or electric boilers.
Tackling potential problems with heat pumps
When installing a heat pump, most buildings will also require the building fabric to be upgraded too, driven by Part L uplift, particularly when carrying out retrofits, which can add additional costs to the overall project. As a result, many commercial building owners are hesitant to consider the technology despite the pumps being powered by renewable electricity that will help reduce carbon emissions.
However, while the Government expects that heat pumps will be as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers by the end of the decade, steps need to be taken to improve their uptake for non-residential buildings sooner. According to the International Energy Agency, at least 600 million heat pumps are needed by 2030 to put the world on the path to net zero, but at the current rate of installation, only 253 million are expected to be in use by then.
A driving change for a net zero future
Heat pump technology is already being used successfully in many commercial buildings, helping sites to reduce their carbon emissions by more than a third. Over the next few years, this number is likely to increase even more, driven by legislation and government funding with building regulations at the heart of change.
At Ideal Heating, we recognise there will not be one single technology that will enable the UK to achieve its net zero target – we must consider a diverse range of solutions to decarbonise heat. This is why we have developed an array of heating solutions including commercial heat pumps and heat interface units (HIUs) that transfer heat from heat networks, which are another approach by the UK government to decarbonise heating.
However, increasing our use of heat pumps collectively as a nation will help to significantly lower gas consumption in the UK and reduce the risk of shortages in the years to come while taking us closer to net zero.