Why alternatives to gas heating are getting a lukewarm reception 2019-01-28T15:11:19+01:00

The alternatives to domestic heating to help prevent climate catastrophe

Most people would agree these days that the world needs to reduce its use of fossil fuels. The UK has a target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

But, as always, it’s easier to identify the problem than the solution. About 85 per cent of homes in the UK use natural gas for heating, generating a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Here we take a look at some of the possible alternatives:

Heat pumps

Heat pumps use electricity to extract heat from the air, water or ground – like a fridge extracts heat from its interior, but in reverse.

Pros: At their most efficient, they can produce up five times as much heat energy as they take in in electrical energy.

Cons: For heat pumps to work well, a building needs to be well insulated (which many UK homes are not) and also properly adapted: heat pumps heat water to temperatures around 20 to 30°C lower than gas boilers, so they need to be paired with underfloor heating or larger-than-normal radiators which will work well at these temperatures. They are actually slightly more expensive to run than gas heating as things stand too, so would need to be run on affordable, renewable electricity to have any significant benefit.

District heating networks

These generate heat in one place to supply multiple buildings. The idea is to provide low-carbon energy cheaply, using renewable technology or waste heat from other sources – such as the London Underground, in the case of one such network in north London. Around 210,000 UK households are now connected to district heating networks, according to energy saving website The Green Age.

Pros: They can be a very efficient way of providing energy using clean sources that are impractical for single homes, such as geothermal energy or waste heat.

Cons: They are very difficult to retrofit and there’s no consumer protection, as they are not regulated by Ofgem.

Insulation

There’s only one thing better than a home that uses renewable sources of heat, and that’s a home that’s so well insulated it hardly needs heating.

Pros: All methods of energy production cause some environmental damage, so it’s always better – and cheaper for homeowners – to reduce the amount of energy we need.

Cons: Retrofitting insulation is expensive and disruptive initially, and you need to make sure it is done properly and is suitable for your home – cavity wall insulation, for example, can cause damp in homes which get a lot of rain or are on the coast. You’ll need permission from your district or borough council for some work on listed or conservation buildings too.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen produces only water when burned, and in principle, huge quantities could be made by electrolysis – using an electric current  to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – or from natural gas.

Pros: Hydrogen is a clean fuel, producing no pollution at the point of use.

Cons: Fossil fuels are still used to produce hydrogen, unless renewable electricity is used – and using natural gas produces carbon dioxide, which would need to be stored underground. Neither of the two production processes is very energy efficient or has ever been done on a large scale.

Carbon tax

The environmental cost of carbon is very high. Perhaps this should be reflected in its financial cost.

Pros: The money could be used to fund green technologies and make them more affordable. It would also force people to use fossil fuels more sparingly. The New Scientist reported that adoption of heat pumps soared in Sweden after a carbon tax was introduced in the 1990s.

Bad: Until affordable, realistic alternatives to fossil fuels are widely available, this isn’t an option; people have to be able to afford to heat their homes.

If your company is involved in developing new sources of energy, you may be eligible for government funding through the research and development tax credit scheme. At R&D Tax Solutions, we specialise in helping companies make successful claims – have a look at our r&d tax credits example page to see how much tax you might be able to get back or use our online r&d calculator to see how much you could be eligible, then call us at our Manchester office on 0161 298 1010 to see how we can help.

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