What is Low Carbon Heating?

The term Low Carbon Heating is a hot topic lately, so it is a term that you might want to become familiar with and get ahead while you can. So, what exactly is Low Carbon heating and where are the benefits for you?

Low carbon heating systems are simply those that release little or no carbon into the atmosphere. Instead of using fossil fuels such as gas and oil, low carbon heating systems get heat from sustainable sources such as the sun, the ground, plant-based organisms and the outside air. These are all sustainable sources because there is a constant supply and they won’t ever run out, unlike the fossil fuel we are so reliant on today.

What are low carbon heating systems?

Some examples of low carbon heating systems that you might want to consider for your home are:

  • Heat pumps- can be ground source, water source or air source
  • Solar thermal water heating
  • Low carbon boilers- Biomass or wood boilers
  • Hybrid systems

Why are we looking into low carbon heating systems?

Currently, home heating, businesses and industry is responsible for a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the energy you pay for in your home goes towards heating, as much as 64% of energy bills with another 10% going on hot water. The vast majority (85%) of homes in the UK are heated by natural gas, followed by oil, coal and LPG- all fossil fuels that are not renewable.

Fossil fuels have allowed us to advance economically but the long-term impact is a big concern, and a solution needs to be found.

With the Net Zero Emissions Law that the UK government is targeting to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, traditional gas and oil heating systems are being gradually phased out. Net Zero basically refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

So to cut back on the amount of CO2 your home produces the government is encouraging consumers to opt for low carbon heating options such as heat pumps, green electricity systems and solar thermal panels. On a larger scale the government is also exploring the idea of district heating networks and conversion of gas networks to biogas or hydrogen.

Changing the way we use energy in our homes

The government is investing heavily in supporting low-carbon electricity such as from renewable sources- so it makes sense that switching from gas or oil to an electricity driven heating system such as infrared central heating means you will benefit from this investment in the long run while also being part of the solution.

How to choose a low carbon heating system?

There are a number of low-carbon options to look at depending on your home and your budget, each has its advantages and disadvantages so it’s worth reading our quick guide to help you choose:

Heat Pumps

All kinds of heat pumps are considered low-carbon- these can be air-source, ground-source or water source. All work on the same principle, they transfer heat to or from a source outside of your home and can provide central heating and domestic hot water. The source of heat is different between them- air, ground or water- and therefore costs can vary significantly. They may need to be supplemented as the heat produced is not as hot as a gas boiler and they still require electricity to operate, notwithstanding they are 3-4 times more efficient than a gas boiler, and an increasing amount of our electricity comes from low carbon sources.    

Air Source

Even when outside air temperatures are low, there is still heat in cold air and heat pumps extract this heat from the air in a very energy efficient manner. They can be air to air, that provides space heating, or air to water that provides space and water heating. These systems can cost from £4,000 up to £18,000 to install, are the least disruptive and take up the least amount of space. A unit with a fan is no bigger than a washing machine.  However, if you live in a very cold climate then ground and water heat pumps will work better.

Ground Source

As the name implies, ground source heat pumps extract heat from the soil, which surprisingly remains relatively constant year round between 10°C and 15°C so are not hugely affected by cold weather. Pipes running underground contain refrigerant that absorbs underground heat that then travels to a heat exchanger for the central heating. This is considered a pretty efficient and eco-friendly heating solution however not without its upfront costs of between £20,000 to £40,000.

Water Source Heat pumps

If you live near a lake or a pond, it is possible to extract energy from this water to heat your home. This system is cheaper to install for around £10,000 and provides quite consistent heat, however if your lake or pond freezes over then this obviously won’t work and you need a backup heat source.  

Low-Carbon Boilers

Boilers come in many different shapes and sizes, namely the typical oil-fired boilers, gas boilers and the latest low-carbon combi boiler. These can either be electric combi boilers or biomass boilers.

Electric Combi Boilers

An electric combi boiler is both a high efficiency water heater and a central heating boiler in a single compact unit that provides both hot water and central heating. Much like a gas-run boiler only smaller (they fit in your kitchen cupboard), these run off electricity as the energy source instead of gas. As gas is being gradually phased out in the UK along with all fossil fuels, these are seen as a greener alternative, particularly if your energy supplier uses renewable sources of you have solar cells on the roof. You don’t need a water tank or storage cylinder as they heat water directly from the mains, so they are good for compact spaces. These boilers can cost anything between £1000 and £4000 and are more expensive to run than oil or gas boiler options, however they are best suited to smaller homes because they heat water on demand as opposed to continuously throughout the day so are on less.

Wood or Biomass boilers

Biomass boilers are a good option if you want to replace your current oil or gas boiler with something that performs similarly but burns sustainably sourced wood pellets instead. Biomass fuel is also around 40% cheaper than oil or LPG and is much more sustainable than coal. Good for larger homes with the need for plenty of hot water.

They can cost anything between £5,000 and £21,000, depending if manually or automatically-fed, but are cheaper to run compared to an electric combi boiler. There are Renewable Heat Incentive payments available for Biomass boilers that can likely cover the costs of the initial installation investment. They are less energy efficient than electric systems however and they can be a little noisy, also called ‘kettling’ when they are used in really cold weather. They also need plenty of space for fuel storage and delivery so not suitable for everyone.

Micro- CHP (combined heat and power)

Micro combined heat and power systems is long name for a system that generates heat and electricity at the same time and is powered by gas or LPG. They are similar in size to gas boilers and cost more than a traditional gas system to install with similar maintenance costs. Cost including installation is between £10,000 and £15,000.

A Micro-CHP system will most likely need to be supplemented by electricity from the grid, although it will reduce what you would otherwise need from the grid. They are considered low-carbon because although they burn gas and therefore aren’t a renewable energy source, they are providing both electricity and heat simultaneously and can lower the carbon footprint of your home.

Solar Thermal Water Heating systems

Different to solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity, these thermal panels use free heat from the sun to warm hot water for your domestic water needs. Heat waves carry more energy than sunlight so these are even more efficient and no transformation into electricity process is needed. These can cost around £3,000 to £5,000 to install and are pretty cost efficient. Some areas in the UK have a higher solar potential and are simply more effective as is expected. A back up boiler or immersion heater can be used too if needed as most systems will provide around half of the hot water needed for a home or 40-80% of space heating, saving considerably on your heating bills.

Hybrid Heating systems

A hybrid system will switch between renewables such as solar or an air source heat pump and electric depending on which can provide better heat at any given time. A good option if you are unsure of taking a leap into the renewable unknown and want to keep your electric system as a back-up. A large proportion of electricity produced in the UK is done using renewable sources so by choosing a renewable energy option from your supplier you will still see the energy savings in your bills and contribute to lowering your carbon emissions. Infrared panels are an ideal option to supplement a heat pump thanks to the ability to zone your heating needs and the low maintenance required for infrared.

Other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your home 

Wall and loft Insulation

The better insulated your home is, the more effective your chosen heating system will be. So much heat is lost through the roof of your house, insulating your loft, roof or attic space is a comparatively cheap measure to take to reduce your carbon footprint and also your heating bills!

Draught-proofing

Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to save energy and money in your home, while lowering your carbon footprint. Professional draught proofing will cost around £200 for a typical semi-detached house but can also be carried out DIY.  The most common areas to find draughts are windows, doors, chimneys, floorboards, lofts etc.

Making the shift to renewables

Renewable energy sources now provide more electricity to UK homes and businesses than fossil fuels, gas and coal, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution began in 1882. Compared to coal, electricity generated by hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%. Consider switching to a green energy plan as part of your commitment to make your home run on greener electricity and consider Infrared heating panels for a really energy efficient and modern heating system. Once installed, infrared heating requires no maintenance and can save on bills because they only need to be turned on where you need them and provide the perfect heating climate in your home. So, by combining a green energy plan with an energy efficient heating system you will really benefit from the rewards in years to come. 

What sort of funding is available?

Around only 1 million homes out of a total of 27 million in the UK have low-carbon heating systems, the changeover to low carbon in domestic homes has been rather slow. So the government are really pushing the incentive to make the change for domestic homeowners more financially viable.

The UK government has made available a £2bn grant scheme called the Green Homes Grant designed to help pay for a range of upgrades to improve energy efficiency and support the installation of low-carbon heating in 600,000 homes, supporting 100,000 jobs while driving down emissions. Under this scheme, homeowners in England can get up to £5000 to make energy-saving home improvements. The deadline has been extended to March 2022.

The Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI is a government financial incentive to promote the use of renewable heat that has also been extended to March 2022. It can be used in conjunction with the Green Homes Grant and encourages homeowners to switch to heating systems that use renewable energy sources to cut down on carbon emissions. The heating systems covered by the scheme include air and ground source heat pumps and solar thermal panels.

The Clean Heat Grant is a new government initiative due to start in April 2022 that supports heat pumps and in some cases biomass, further tackling the climate crisis and allowing homeowners to access low carbon heating. 

The Scottish Government’s Warmer Homes Scotland scheme offers funding and support to households struggling to stay warm and keep on top of energy bills. Home Energy Scotland will check what support is available and put households in touch with the managing agent, even providing a free at-home consultation to give you the best advice.

Gas is a thing of the past

Gas-fuelled energy is a thing of the past and will be replaced by low-carbon heating systems in all new homes built after 2025. Properties will be fitted with alternative systems such as heat pumps and green grid electricity-fed systems to help reduce carbon emissions.

It’s important to consider installation costs and your local weather conditions, bearing in mind the current grants being made available for low carbon heating upgrades.

The uptake of low-carbon heating systems has been relatively slow, while electricity generation is becoming more green. Electricity is a greener energy source because power suppliers are producing electricity from more renewable sources such as solar energy, wind power, hydraulic energy, biomass, geothermal etc. therefore electricity-run heating systems, such as infrared heating, are a further solution to the climate crisis.

Making your home more efficient can help to lower your energy bills, but the initial costs of improvements can be a deterrent. There are many options available for funding including grants and interest-free loans so it is worth looking into what is available in your area.