The recent introduction of the ‘Gas Law’ in the Netherlands has highlighted how attitudes towards gas are changing. Martyn Bridges, Director of Technical Communication and Product Management at Worcester Bosch, discusses the possible ways to reduce reliance on gas heating, from hybrid systems to hydrogen.
Gas boilers are undoubtedly the most popular heating method of choice for most UK households on the gas grid. Due to the popularity of using gas for domestic heating in the UK choosing not to use gas might seem strange, however other European countries are doing just that. Recently, the Netherlands instigated a change in the Dutch Law regulating the gas network operators (‘The Gas Law’) so that new building permit applications will not be allowed to connect to the mains gas grid, effective July 2018. While there is no sign of this happening in the UK yet, it is evident that attitudes towards gas are changing, and with this comes the need to look into more efficient alternatives.
To lessen reliance on gas, hybrid heating systems could be the answer in the mid-term to help new build and existing properties explore alternatives to sole gas heating. Hybrid properties are still able to have a gas boiler this way, but other renewable heating solutions are then combined to maximise the overall energy efficiency of the system, while reducing the homeowners’ energy bills.
The UK is ideally suited to the use of solar thermal panels. When combined with a boiler and hot water cylinder, solar provides yet another way of meeting the hot water requirements for the household, and in turn reduces the reliance on the gas boiler. Typically, by harnessing energy from the sun and converting it into useable heat, up to 60% of a home’s hot water requirements can be fulfilled during the course of a year.
Solar thermal panels are also available in a variety of sizes and can accommodate smaller roofs, which is an added bonus for those working on urban and city dwellings where roof space can be limited.
Wood burning stoves
Wood burning stoves are another option and can not only comfortably heat a single room, but, when fitted with a boiler, it isn’t untypical for the gas heating system to be turned off in the spring or autumn months as the wood burner is sufficient to heat up the room it is sited within and take the chill off the surrounding area.
With many hybrid heating systems that are interlinked, advanced controls will need to be installed to enable the most cost-effective method of heating to be selected. The controls available vary from using live weather data (weather compensation) and keeping track of the internal room temperature (load compensation), to adapting settings according to how a homeowner uses their heating system.
In the long-term, it is possible that the UK will move away from natural gas heating entirely. In fact, with increasingly stringent carbon emissions targets set by the government it might seem appropriate for the UK to adopt its own ‘Gas Law’.
Currently, policy and funding allocation are pointing towards the use of hydrogen. A strong reason for this is that hydrogen coupled with carbon capture doesn’t produce CO2 and carbon monoxide (CO) by-products as it is burned within the home. Residential gas consumption is one of the main contributors to harmful emissions in the UK, so a clean energy source such as hydrogen could be the answer we’re all looking for. Investigations are also being made into the use of a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas, initially with the possibility of the blends increasing until eventually a 100%, carbon free gas is in use.
Reassuringly, a switch from natural gas to hydrogen shouldn’t cause installers or homeowners too many issues. The UK has a history of successful fuel migration, having successfully shifted from Town’s gas to natural gas in the 1960s with relative ease. A transition of any kind has its challenges of course, and will need to include the design and development of hydrogen-fuelled appliances, but the UK has already proven its ability to switch and manufacturers like Worcester are on board to make this happen. Worcester Bosch for instance is already looking at how a hydrogen-fuelled domestic boiler might be brought to market.
Overall, the ‘Gas Law’ should inspire some creative thinking within the heating industry here in the UK. Hybrid heating systems and investments in hydrogen represent a significant opportunity for development and positive change to achieve a carbon-neutral society.
For more information, visit www.worcester-bosch.co.uk.