Without gas, what will keep us warm?

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Steve Hunt shares his insights into how we can adapt to the changes to thermal demands for the Future Homes Standard.

As schools are reopening and we work our way out of lockdown one thing is for sure and that is the design of our new homes must surely now include a home office of sorts and whilst that is a physical change the thermal demands of the Future Homes Standard is not far away.

At the moment it is vogue to have a road map and the government has set theirs to pave a way to Nett Zero carbon by 2050 and the Future Homes Standard is a steppingstone in that direction.

As the new Part L looms gone are the days of a trusty combi boiler and as we turn our back on fossil fuels the frighteningly obvious choice for the uninformed is electric heaters, thankfully the SAP compliance process wont allow such draconian measures.  Instead a new dawn is upon us as we seek to explore the advantages of a heat pump.

On a domestic level the installation of a single heat pump in a well-insulated home is now perfectly viable providing an all-electric solution serving traditional heating and hot water almost mirroring the home comforts of a combi boiler.

However, on a larger scale there is so much more opportunity to make better use of energy via the return of the district heating network and whilst many will reflect on the poor performance of the systems of the 1970s one must not forget that this technology was used to good effect to heat the baths and greenhouses of the ancient Roman Empire.

Utilising an energy centre with air source heat pumps serving a low temperature network to dwellings installed with heat interface units can greatly improve energy efficiency. The air source heat pumps sized to match the majority of the annual load works at the optimum condition whilst back up electric boilers are installed to meet the occasion of peak demand during a heavy winter.

Some may balk at the concept of electric boilers and the grid will certainly need to respond to the demand for more power but considered systems should be supported by photovoltaic installations.

The concept is further explored with fifth generation district heating systems utilising an ambient loop which circulates water at a temperature as low as its name suggests. The heat loss from pipework is almost eliminated and is used to provide the medium from which water to water heat pumps can elevate its operating temperature to provide heating and hot water in dwellings.

District heating systems really comes into their own when a district has the luxury of properties with a predominant heat gain which can be shared with properties with a majority heat loss and a combined community approach is worth exploring.

It is going to take a massive swing in perception and culture to make this work but I think we have all certainly learnt from the last twelve months that change is possible, society can adapt and we  should all be considering the bigger picture and if we have any chance of meeting our targets then we should all welcome change.

Words by Steve Hunt, Steven A Hunt Associates