Low carbon energy is the future of the energy industry. Governments around the world have made it a topmost priority to decarbonise their countries. One of their rallying calls is for individuals to shift to more environment-friendly sources of energy. The UK government is no exception. Specifically, the government is urging households to transit from gas-powered space heating to other heating options that do not emit a lot of carbon.
This is, however, not an easy task. People are showing little motivation to abandon gas boilers as a source of heating. There are many reasons for this. For one, information about low carbon heating alternatives is scanty. Additionally, these other forms of heating are deemed expensive, and some appear to be downright inconveniencing. People also don’t know where to get these different sources of energy. And finally, the mere inconvenience that comes with disruption is enough reason for homeowners to frown upon low carbon heating.
In a report titled “Uncomfortable Home Truths: Why Britain Urgently Needs a Low Carbon Heat Strategy,” the task force entrusted with the task found that gas installers have a pivotal role to play in the decarbonisation cause. It emerged that installers are a trusted source of information and advice when it comes to many homeowners’ choice of energy source. Unfortunately, most gas installers are ill-equipped to advise or even install low carbon heating alternatives in British homes.
Why Should Homeowners Transition to Low Carbon Energy?
Research shows that over 80 % of homes in the UK rely heavily on gas for heating purposes. Most of these homes are connected to the national gas grid. While gas is a reliable and easily accessible source of heating for most households, it is also one of the most harmful energy sources in terms of environmental pollution. It causes exceedingly high levels of carbon emissions, which in turn contribute heavily to climate change.
As if carbon emission on its own is not harmful enough, there is also the fact that gas comes from fossil fuels, which are difficult to replenish. It can take millions of years for more gas to be formed. With current usage rates, the world’s stock of fossil fuel is near depletion, with no hopes of replenishment.
These are the main reasons for the intensive focus on low carbon and renewable energy sources. In terms of caring for the environment, renewable sources of energy are preferable to low carbon energy sources. This is because most renewable sources of energy come from plentiful natural resources, and most don’t emit any harmful greenhouse gases. Some of these power sources include wind energy, solar energy, and hydroelectric power.
Low carbon sources of energy, on the other hand, aim at minimising rather than eliminating carbon emissions. They are more efficient than gas boilers, and some even combine energy from different sources to enhance their efficacy. Some of the most common low carbon heating options for homeowners in the UK are heat pumps, wood heating systems, hydrogen boilers, and hybrid systems.
Low Carbon Home Heating Options
1. Heat Pumps
Heat pumps are a common and well-known low carbon heating option. The pumps work by converting heat at low temperatures from the outside air to high- temperature heat. This heat is then distributed throughout the house, thus providing much-needed space heating. If properly installed, heat pumps can also heat water for domestic use.
The heat pumps need electricity to run, which means they are not entirely carbon-free. However, compared to traditional gas boilers, the amount of carbon emitted by these pumps is remarkably low. To minimise the amount of carbon emitted by the pumps even further, homeowners can insulate their homes, have heated floors, or have radiators that are bigger than what they need.
2. Wood Heating
Another low carbon heating system that homeowners can embrace is a wood heating system. Wood gets a bad reputation as a tiresome and bothersome source of energy, but this is not entirely true. Sure, you will need to get permits to have this system in your house, and you may also have to deal with ash and smoke, but there are a lot of upsides to choosing a wood heating system for your home.
For one thing, wood produces minimal amounts of carbon. By choosing this heating option, you will be reducing your carbon footprint significantly and doing your part for the environment. Secondly, wood heating includes more than just logs. Today, some boilers use wood pellets, and some even operate entirely automatically. If you are worried about having to carry logs around or feeding them to the fire, this need not be the case. However, you will need plenty of space with this heating option since wood boilers tend to be enormous.
3. Solar Thermal Heaters
Solar heaters are yet another viable home heating alternative. They are particularly useful in heating water. Alone, they do a poor job of heating spaces, but you can combine them with other sources of energy to boost their space-heating efficiency. The best thing about solar panels is that they emit virtually no carbon, although they are not completely clean, seeing that they need a pump and controller to run.
4. Air or Ground Source Pumps
These work a lot like the heat pumps. They convert heat from the outside, or underground, to heat that can warm up a house. Air source pumps, in particular, are handy and cheap. All you need is to get some space outdoors where you can place a suitcase-sized unit, and you are good to go.
Ground source pumps, on the other hand, are a tad more challenging to install. You can lay the pipes horizontally or vertically. Horizontal laying requires a lot of space, whereas vertical pipes need drilling. You will, therefore, need space for the drilling equipment. Although sourcing heat from the ground can be expensive, it is also more efficient, especially in the winter, since underground temperatures remain relatively constant.
CHP is an acronym that means Combined Heat and Power. Essentially, this system allows you to get heat and electricity from the same source. The source typically runs on gas or LPG, but it is classified as low carbon since you also generate power from it. The unit can be mounted on the wall just like a gas boiler. This is, therefore, the least disruptive low carbon heating alternative for homeowners.
Obstacles to Low Carbon Heating
Low carbon sources of heating are, undoubtedly, more expensive than gas heating. Estimates show that a national shift to low carbon heating will cost an additional £15 billion annually. This means that consumers who are already in fuel poverty will continue to struggle, and those at risk of fuel poverty will most likely end up suffering too. If people have to pay more to obtain something as essential as energy, it is reasonable to assume that most will not willingly shift to the more expensive option.
2. Lack of Information
Information about low carbon heating for households is lacking. People simply don’t know enough about their options to make an informed decision. Others don’t even know why they should change to low carbon heating alternatives. Because a considerable portion of the nation’s population is wallowing in unawareness, even low carbon heating options that are viable remain underused. Some consumers also hold misguided beliefs about alternative sources of energy, which ultimately leads to lower consumption rates.
3. Lack of Options
Whereas there are several low carbon heating alternatives, many people have no idea how they can make the change even if they want to. For instance, few heat engineers and installers have proper training on how to install alternative heating systems. This slows the rate at which people change to more environment-friendly heating options.
4. Reluctance to Change
Finally, most consumers are merely reluctant to change from gas to other sources of heating. Some homeowners worry about the reliability of these alternative sources of energy. Others yet are concerned with the inconvenience that some bring with them. Where, for example, will they house big wood stoves or boilers? What about feeding logs to the stove? What if their solar heating panels fail to deliver at the worst possible time? These are part of the reasons why people have yet to embrace alternatives to gas boilers.
The Role of Gas Installers in the Low Carbon Future
According to research, one of the most significant obstacles to a low carbon future is a lack of information and support. The report shows that most homeowners are disinclined to trust energy companies for guidance on home heating alternatives. They view them purely as corporate entities who put profits before social good. Instead, most people rely on gas installers for advice on home heating systems. Installers enjoy a level of trust and confidence from consumers that others don’t.
It follows that if gas installers themselves don’t have the requisite skills and training in installing low carbon heating systems, they will not advise their clients to change either. This explains why, annually, over 1.6 million gas boilers are installed in homes, whereas only 20,000 heat pumps get installed.
Consequently, one of the first steps that the UK government must take is to train installers about low carbon heating alternatives. Upskilling will be vital so that gas engineers understand the physics behind low carbon options, and can confidently install these systems in the homes of their clients. With training, the technicians will be in a better position to advise their customers about the best heating system for their homes.
Training should also be region-specific. This is because some low carbon heating options are better suited to some areas than others. For instance, where natural resources are found aplenty in one region, it only makes sense to advise homeowners to shift to this specific source of energy. This will also boost the overall efficiency of low carbon sources of energy.
Another way to improve the rate of change is to offer homeowners the support they need. Help entails covering part of the cost of transitioning so that the bills don’t pile up too high. Moreover, the government needs to put in place reliable consumer protection measures. Some of these measures include setting standards for alternative heating sources and educating customers on their rights.
Lack of awareness about low carbon heating is arguably the greatest challenge to the decarbonising cause. This is why gas installers are invaluable when it comes to spreading the word about low carbon energy. They have the privilege of interacting in a professional capacity with the people who should transit to more environmentally friendly energy sources. Their customers rely on them for guidance, and their advice holds much sway over homeowners. If they are adequately trained to give information on these heating systems and to install them expertly, then more people will undoubtedly make the change.
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