Thursday 21 January 2021

"Zero Carbon Housing": Heat Pumps For All?

As everybody knows, the easiest target for decarbonisation has been the electricity generation sector.  But that leaves some seriously intractable problems - energy-intensive industry, transport, food/agriculture/land-use, and space heating - which in aggregate are significantly bigger consumers of fossil fuels, and also (with the exception of some industries) much less centralised, i.e. interventionist measures are much more difficult.  Only the supply-side of transportation (oil companies now, electric utilities in the distant future) is *easily* dealt with, in the sense of nobbling a handful of large players that governments know how to transact with.  

One of the difficult areas - some would say the most difficult - is space heating in residential properties, in a country like the UK where gas is by far the predominant fuel.  Electrification?  Consider this: peak winter energy demand for space heating that is currently fuelled by gas, is a multiple of peak electricity demand for all purposes.  So: although the grid starts with a bit of headroom arising from overall energy consumption having been falling slowly for many years now, basically the grid and the generating fleet would need to be more than doubled in capacity, in almost every facet, in order simply to electrify home heating.  That leaves electrification of transport still to be catered for.  (With a bit of management, that might just sneak in with the grid upsizing required for heating, if all the vehicles could be charged in the small hours.)

Politicians having been banging on about legislating towards decarbonising homes for several years now.  One of Sadiq "Showman" Khan's more fatuous actions was to "regulate" that all London newbuild houses would be zero carbon from, errr, 2019.  But then, seeing there wouldn't be any new housebuilding, he changed his mind.

HMG is at it now:

Heat pumps will become the principal low-carbon heating technology in new homes, the government has said. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has responded to feedback to a consultation it conducted just over a year ago into its proposals for a Future Homes Standard that will govern new residential development from 2025. The response confirms the government’s commitment in the Treasury’s 2019 Spring Spending Statement to ban the installation of fossil fuel heating, such as natural gas boilers, in new-build homes by the middle of this decade. (UtilityWeek)

Grammarians, pedants and skeptics amongst you will have identified the weasels there: principal technology might mean "majority of installations" (51%?) or even "biggest single technology" (alongside gas and old-style electric and district heating etc etc).

Note also that heat pumps are only "low" carbon - because of course they use electricity from the mains!   Given that homes presumably includes urban flats, we must also assume it's to be air-source pumps as well as ground-source - a very questionable proposition.  And then there's the finance.  The RHI was meant to incentivise ground-source heat pumps as much as biomass, but in this it failed dismally.  We're talking serious cost here: and that's before anyone even mentioned retrofit.

If they really mean it, new house building will slow to a crawl (just as 2,000,000 Hong Kongers turn up ...).  Still, "ban" is ban.  Ask Sadiq, eh?



GridBot said...

yes multiples! like x 4.

Old data but the shape of the graph is very much the same today.

Perhaps why a lot of effort is being put into developing hydrogen infrastructure - be that hydrogen of the blue, green, red... variety!


Anonymous said...

Anyone know how does the kWh required to heat your home via electricity is compared to gas?

My gas currently costs 2.222p per kWh and electricity is 12.9p per kWh.

I assume to pay the same as my current costs, to switch from gas to electric I'd need electric heating to be be 5.8 times more efficient than gas heating or have I missed something obvious here?

Thud said...

I have used and installed both air and ground source, both are essentially vanity projects. I'm starting a new build project on feb 1st, 4000 sq.ft house and a 2000 sq.ft barn conversion plus recording studio and workshops....non will use heat pumps.

Matt said...


Even with a ‘poor’ SPF of 2.0, heat pumps are a lower carbon option than an oil boiler. Against natural
gas, heat pumps need to perform at the top of the EST trial range to be carbon competitive today. As
the grid decarbonises, the carbon performance of heat pumps will further increase relative to gas and
oil, as shown below (although injecting biogas into the gas network may also bring the carbon content down
for gas boiler heating, as shown below).

In other words, they are not better than gas and only marginally better than oil.

Anonymous said...

Anon - yes thats right, you have not missed anything but you have illustrated the issue rather neatly.

dearieme said...

My only experience was with visiting a house with a heat pump in NZ. They need heating in winter; they enjoyed a frost-free microclimate which presumably helps.

He said that they needed a/c in summer - that must have been because of the huge north-facing windows since the summer temperatures in Christchurch are pleasantly mild or warm not hot.

Can a heat pump make sense in our climate with cold winter weather and a/c being desirable in, at most, a few places in East Anglia or the South East, on a few days of the summer?

Anonymous said...

Apologies for now but I don't think I'm going to be able to find a definite reference or update to this story, also my memory may have changed the facts :-( . It might have been "Whispergen" with the courageous choice of a Stirling engine.

A few years ago, maybe in the 2000s, a firm was offering a particularly quiet near-zero-maintenance combined electricity generator/boiler fuelled from the gas grid, possibly through a UK utility. Automatically starting and stopping as required, so no more user oversight than any other central heating setup. They reckoned that it was economical for some peoples' very big houses but were mainly trying to market it to smaller commercial sites such as small care homes. ISTR this was about eliminating electricity bills as much as about greenness.

The thing here is that this means that the waste heat from electricity generation is now available to the end user as usable water/space heat. Also, the user might choose to use some of the electricity to power a heat pump. Either way, the overall gas-to-usefulness yield was supposed to be good.

Perhaps they are still going, perhaps they fell at one of the many hurdles any smallish startup faces or their perhaps there was a problem with their particular setup. But it is disappointing if this has been tried and failed.

If hydrogen rather than natural gas is to be delivered through the gas grid then it might be possible to have domestic installations run it through a less-scary and less-expensive-maintenance fuel cell and again use some or all of the electricity to run a heat pump. Maybe not ideal, but again better than burning it in a boiler.

Perhaps our policymakers could discuss green entropy not green energy.

Meanwhile, while anything sells in a housing shortage, what developer isn't going to fit new builds with the lowest install cost system that is permitted, whatever the running cost or greenness? The rare numerate householder might make a rational tradeoff between capital and running costs once their installed system does die of old age, but their installer might have other ideas even then :-( .


Nick Drew said...

Thanks, Lurker

E-K said...

The inconsistency of it all. Pensioners mustn't die of CV-19 but they can die of hypothermia.

Anonymous said...

OT - I was amazed at the way HMG felt capable of ignoring Pfizer's 21 day vaccine interval in favour of 12 weeks - I can only think they know something about upcoming supply that I don't. Pfizer's vaccine says - take dose 2 after 21 days.

Now some medics are raising their heads here and in Israel.

"International organisations such as the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the US; and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have advised that the vaccination schedules, as defined from the published peer reviewed studies from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (the other mRNA vaccine), should be followed (respectively 1/22 day and 1/29 day first/second dose vaccinations). [5] The German and US governments have recently stated that they do not intend to delay the second covid-19 vaccine shot and Pfizer and Moderna do not support the delay strategy."

"The current UK strategy with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine is, in our view, a non-randomised, uncontrolled population experimental study without pilot data. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) and Public Health England should be prepared to revisit and, if necessary, reverse their decisions based on emerging scientific evidence. At the time of writing a statement released by Israeli officials has indicated that “real world” analysis of 200,000 people age >60 years, who have had the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, shows efficacy of 33%, far less than the 89% stated by the JCVI. These new real world data suggest that the UK should reconsider the decision to delay the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech."

Bottom line/management summary is that we are doing a half-assed job, giving twice the number poor protection as against giving half the number good protection.

jim said...

From what I read a heat pump system puts out a lot less heating power than a fuel boiler - say 9Kw versus 40Kw. This is OK if the house insulation is up to it but implies only for new build. As said this looks impractical for blocks of flats etc.

Just jack up the price of fuel. No one needs to wake up to a toasty bedroom at 6:30, scraping a bit of frost off the windows is a special pleasure. Those who own Georgian rectories can afford the extra (and an extra jumper). The oldies can go back to huddling over a one-bar electric fire.

Jacking up the price should help recycle the UK's housing stock. Most of it needs to be sold off cheap, pulled down and rebuilt. So make old houses unsaleable, set up housing recycle companies to rebuild for rental. Oodles of ongoing cash flow for someone....

E-K said...

Anon @ 9.33

Quite right.

I'm in agreement with this lockdown but only if the vaccinations are done effectively and only if there's a get out plan.

Vaccinate the known vulnerable fully first. This priority is pretty similar to Focused Shielding.

What we're not being told (and they full well know it) is that lockdown/mask/social distancing restrictions are with us until at least Spring 2022. Possibly for years yet.

The answer to lockdown failing ? More lockdown ! Much the same as when Leftism/EU fails - it's not because it fails but because we didn't have enough of it.

And of younger people dying of CV-19 - I can't help notice that the vast majority of them reported to be 'fit and healthy' are well overweight and I've a feeling that the distribution of the vaccine so thinly is because the Government is too scared to add "Lose weight" to their "Hands, face, space" message.

I'm with Jim too. My house has double glazing roof insulation and (to my regret) cavity wall filling. I'd barely ever turn the heating on, even in the depths of winter if it were not for my wife. A micro fleece top wards off any chill.

This country has a big problem with little old ladies stuck living on their own in large, super-heated houses and the government would be better running a scheme called Help-to-Move rather than Help-to-Buy.

I expect to be surrounded by families from Hong Kong in the next decade.

And I recall The Policeman's Blog some years ago. "I entered the council house - the heating turned up to a level that only someone not footing the bill could sustain."

Anonymous said...

E-K - "This country has a big problem with little old ladies stuck living on their own in large, super-heated houses"

Only those on decent pensions - I do know one or two like that. But there are an awful lot more hunched over a 2-bar electric fire in one room. Someone needs to develop a quilted, insulated housecoat that can be charged then worn, and keeps heat for an hour or so. People could have two and keep swapping as one gets cold. Because without moving around a lot even the best woolly long johns and layers will get cold.

Anyway it looks as if we might be losing a lot of little old ladies who've had one dose but not the second.

"At the end of December, the JCVI announced that the efficacy of the vaccine was "around 90%", starting 14 days after the first dose.

"Short term protection from dose 1 is very high," the advisers announced in a statement. On the basis of that data they concluded it was safe to delay the second dose for up to 12 weeks and roll out the vaccine faster.

But the stats from Israel suggests that the efficacy of one dose is just 33%.

And that was in people over the age of 60, those who need protection the most."

Don Cox said...

"What we're not being told (and they full well know it) is that lockdown/mask/social distancing restrictions are with us until at least Spring 2022. Possibly for years yet."

They do seem to have been effective in reducing the number of cases of colds and ordinary flu.

But there is much that we can't know until this pandemic dies down and figures from all over the world can be analysed, which will take several years. The real question is, how best to respond to the next pandemic, which is very likely to have a higher mortality rate.

Don Cox

Anonymous said...

>-- And of younger people dying of CV-19 - I can't help notice that the vast majority of them reported to be 'fit and healthy' are well overweight --<

your assuming that this is not representative of the populace after a year on the sofa and soda.

andrew said...

After the third pandemic, the Haphephobic Agoraphobics will have inherited the world

Elby the Beserk said...

I have to say, the idea of smashing to smithereens an economy already smashed to smithereens is truly radical, and a paradigm shift on even from MMT. I'm getting bored with posting these two papers both of which demonstrate that the cost is beyond eye-watering.

"Turning to the raw materials needed to produce batteries, Kelly claims: “If we replace all of the UK vehicle fleet with EVs, and assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation batteries, we would need the following materials:

207,900 tonnes of cobalt – just under twice the annual global production;
264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate – three-quarters of the world’s production;
at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium – nearly the entire world production of neodymium; and
2,362,500 tonnes of copper – more than half the world’s production in 2018.
Put simply, we lack the ability to provide the infrastructure required to deliver electric cars and electric heating on the scale required by 2050.”"

That’s according to Michael Kelly, emeritus professor of technology in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, who says that replacing fossil fuels with electricity from renewables is impractical on the timescale of 2050.

It’s clear that there has been little or no systems engineering input into the plans. How can we possibly proceed further along the renewables path when we lack any technology to store electricity at scale? How can we hope to electrify transport when we would need to consume the whole global annual supply of several important minerals to do so, just for the UK?”

I am in utter despair at the incompetence of this shambles of a government and their apparent intent to turn us into a police state, and the same for our passive population who seem to like the way we are going.

FUBAR doesn't even begin to describe it.

dearieme said...

When my mother was a litlle old widow she solved much of the home heating problem by dressing as for the golf course.

My mother-in-law preferred to dress as for a mild day in May; the cost of her central heating bill for the winter months didn't bear thinking about.