The next step for renewable heating

World leaders agreed at the recent COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy sources.

James Chaplen, Head of Product Marketing and Communications for Mitsubishi Electric, explains why it’s imperative to educate and stay abreast of new technology.

Despite all that’s being done by businesses and legislators to achieve Net Zero, heating still accounts for a quarter of UK carbon emissions, so changing the way we heat residential and commercial buildings and maximising use of technology that heats these spaces in a more energy-efficient, renewable way, is an ongoing need.

This need was moved up a notch recently when world leaders agreed at the recent COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy sources. At the same time, the UK government is driving decarbonisation through new policies, standards and grants - like the Clean Heat Market Mechanism, the Future Homes Standard, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.

Heat pumps will play a central role in reaching the decarbonised future we need. They can provide an average of three times more energy than they consume, making them far more energy efficient and less carbon intensive than traditional fossil-fuelled boilers.

The Climate Change Committee has estimated that 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed by 2050 to help achieve current targets for Net Zero, with the number of heat pumps installed in UK homes and commercial buildings reaching record levels in 2023. Along with offering renewable heating, heat pumps can also lower running costs for both commercial and residential buildings.

This means heat pumps are rapidly becoming the first choice for building managers and owners planning renovations or new builds, as they are ideal for both retrofitting and installation in new and existing properties.

Switching to low GWP refrigerants is key

Opting for systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP) can play an important role in reducing the environmental impact of heat pumps. Newer models are being developed using these. Commercially, the Ecodan QAHV uses CO2 and can heat water up to 90°C, and Mitsubishi Electric has recently launched its newest Ecodan heat pump, which uses R290 refrigerant and, as a result, has a GWP of only 3.

Low Carbon
Systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP) can play an important role in reducing the environmental impact of heat pumps.

This marks a huge step towards encouraging more sustainable home heating. These kinds of heat pumps can also provide reliable heating in extreme conditions and can reach a heating temperature of 75°C in outside temperatures as low as -15°C, matching a fossil fuel boiler. This allows water to be treated to a high temperature, providing plenty of hot water to occupants.

With the cost of living continuing to rise, running the system at a lower flow temperature can result in greater overall savings and even more can be gained if solar PV panels are integrated. Of course, the lower the electricity prices become, the more efficient the system and the greater the savings for the occupant.

Educating consumers

Adopting heat pump technology will help decarbonise our buildings, but public understanding of the importance of heat pump technology remains low. In fact, our research with Ipsos found that just 13% of British adults are aware of the environmental benefits heat pumps can offer, and 71% know little to nothing about how heat pump technology works. More broadly, over a third (34%) also aren’t aware of the most environmentally friendly ways of heating their homes.

And this is reflected in heat pump uptake. UK adoption is currently far below the government target of 600,000 annual installations by 2028 - at circa 60,000 in 2022. To make Net Zero a reality, increasing consumer awareness and communicating the benefits of the technology will be crucial, starting with providing straightforward, impartial advice on the steps homeowners can take when making the decision to install a heat pump in their home.

If we are to reach Net Zero, moving away from fossil-fuelled boilers and towards renewable heating will be paramount. Heat pumps offer a viable solution that can decarbonise heating and ultimately build a greener future for all.

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