Policy-driven gas efficiency

Published:  02 February, 2017

Ilias Vazaios, Ecuity, Building Regulations, boiler, CHP
Getting the very most from natural gas — Ilias Vazaios.

Ilias Vazaios of Ecuity argues that Government policy needs to encourage the use of more efficient gas-fired boilers and heating systems.

About 70% of all UK heat demand is currently serviced by natural gas. In its 2013 Heat Strategy, the Government projected that gas will continue playing a major role well into the 2030s, and the next review of the Heat Strategy, likely to take place during 2017, may be even more bullish on the future of gas (or green gas) as a heating fuel. In this strategic context, policy can go further in ensuring the efficient use of gas, particularly for domestic heating. This opportunity seems to have been identified by policy stakeholders, and progress should be expected.

A solid indicator for the effectiveness of a policy intervention is what has worked in the past. In 2005, the Government, via a change in the Building Regulations, established a requirement that all newly installed boilers must be ‘condensing boilers’. Not all players perceived this as either positive or feasible at the time, but the impact of this policy initiative is now seen as a success. It created a more competitive market, leading to condensing-boiler cost reductions and generated domestic heat-efficiency gains at no cost for the Exchequer.

More than a decade later, the time feels right for a new efficiency push via the Building Regulations. This time the scope of change needs to be wider.

The past few years have seen significant technical advancements such as the development of advanced controls solutions (such as weather compensation), pumps or more responsive heat emitters. These solutions can increase the operating performance of a heating system and leverage more benefits from the installation of condensing boilers. Therefore, upcoming changes to the Building Regulations, anticipated during 2017, should pursue performance improvements across the various components of heating systems.

Building Regulations changes are the low-hanging fruit, but the strategy for efficient domestic gas heating can’t stop there; we need to be prepared for the future. Assuming a prominent role for gas into the 2030s, boilers installed this decade could be replaced again by a gas heating system. We need to make sure that the next generation of domestic gas-heating technologies, beyond the boiler, achieve scale in the UK to be ready to respond to this challenge.

Micro combined heat and power and hybrid heat pumps are already commercialised by an array of players in the UK (and in some cases manufactured in the UK), while domestic gas absorption heat pumps are also soon set to be introduced in the market. Part of available funding pots under the RHI or FiTs needs to target these solutions to encourage their deployment. However, the recent FiT review proposals to reduce available support for micro combined heat and power did not give the right market signals.

The UK, as a major boiler market, cannot afford not to lead the way with an ambitious strategy for efficient utilisation of gas for domestic heating. This strategy needs to capitalise on low-hanging fruits while preparing the ground for the gas technologies of the future. This is the only way to make our domestic gas-heating assets sweat for UK consumers.

Ilias Vazaios is a partner with Ecuity Consulting LLP, a specialist sustainable energy policy and strategy firm.

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