The future of heating: keep all options open…

The future of heating: keep all options open…

PHPI speaks with Andrea Carmeli, Managing Director for Alpha, to discover more about the changing heating market and the company’s latest solutions.  

Q. The heating market is changing as the UK seeks to move towards low carbon solutions for domestic heating and hot water. What is Alpha’s view on this shift?
With the majority of the UK’s 30 million buildings still reliant on fossil fuels, 23% of total UK carbon emissions are attributed to heating. Whilst almost one quarter is a staggering statistic, this presents our industry with a real opportunity to make a sizeable contribution towards attaining the country’s individual net zero goal.  

For this reason, the domestic heating sector must undergo a permanent revolution. The government is regulating a shift away from the traditional gas boiler and the hydrogen sector has recently called on Westminster to do more to support 100% of new boilers being fully hydrogen-powered by 2026. 

Fortunately, there are already plenty of different technologies – either readily available or in development – to help us make the transition to low or zero carbon heating and hot water. The crucial point (and our strategy for Alpha) is to look at all innovations so that domestic customers have access to the best solutions for their house type, lifestyle and current and future needs.  

Q. What solutions are available from Alpha to help installers offer lower carbon alternatives to customers?
Our E-Tec Plus combi boiler can modulate down as low as 4.3kW and incorporates a Delta T controlled pump which can be used to maintain a low return temperature, essential for keeping the boiler in condensing mode. As with all our boiler models, the E-Tec Plus is also 20% hydrogen blend-ready and will therefore be able to run for its lifetime, even when hydrogen begins to be phased into the gas grid. 

Smart controls can have a serious impact on energy efficiency but can often be overlooked by consumers. With products like the Alpha Climatic, the controls measure and maintain the temperature inside the home, continuously adjusting the CH flow temperature to ensure the least amount of energy is used to achieve the desired comfort levels. 

Installers will already be aware of options such as electric heat pumps. But while an effective option for new builds, a heat pump-only approach for retrofits can prove to be either a complex process or simply unfeasible. An effective option (and the preferred choice, in my view) is a hybrid solution which sees a heat pump working together with a gas boiler.

Q. The recently introduced E-Tec Hybrid combines a heat pump, a boiler and controls. How does this combination deliver a high efficiency solution?
We launched the E-Tec Hybrid this January following years of careful research and development to offer homeowners a pathway into renewable heating without losing the benefits of their gas boiler. This factory-made solution combines a gas boiler with a heat pump. These then work in tandem with Smartech controls to cleverly combine live energy prices with the outdoor temperature, configuring the optimum combination and adjusting the heating flow and water temperature in the radiators to heat the home and provide instant hot water in a highly efficient way.  

Independent university studies have confirmed that the heat pump element of our solution will account for 80% of the heating provision, while the boiler covers the remaining 20% during peak demand. This means a tremendous saving in carbon emissions without the need to find space for a big cylinder like you would do with a standalone heat pump.

Q. What kind of feedback have you had to this hybrid option?
We’ve had a phenomenal response, I’m happy to say. There’s been chatter on the installer forums between members keen to understand the concept and those that we have welcomed in for training have loved it – with some even fitting it within their own homes to get to grips with the controls so they can now confidently push it out to their clients. Installers are also really pleased about the fact that they can fit an E-Tec Hybrid in just one day. 

I have the E-Tec Hybrid installed in my property and it has been fantastic; so, I can personally vouch for it! Our team too has seen it installed in a variety of house types and we’ve heard anecdotally that customers have been very happy with the result. 

Q. Are you witnessing an increase in interest in heat pumps?
Yes, certainly. However, for the heat-pump only option, this generally derives from those with more disposable income. What we need is to see more of the general population embracing renewable energy – however the investment is out of reach for those households with less disposable income.  

This is where the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme is failing. Although the incentive offers up to a £5,000 subsidy towards the cost of installing an air source heat pump, the homeowner still must fund the remaining £10,000. Were the scheme to be extended to hybrid solutions, a homeowner would need only invest approximately £1,000 to £2,000. Basically, with the cost of a combi swap, you would get the heat pump for free and the hybrid would work perfectly without the need for a major upgrade to an existing heating system. 

Only recently, it was announced that the scheme has been extended for a further three years. This is the biggest disappointment here. Rather than continuing the scheme as it stands, it could be adapted to include hybrid heat pumps and incentivise more people to make smaller steps to renewable energy, rather than a select few taking one large leap all the way.  

Q. How is the company providing support to installers and engineers as the sector changes?
Domestic customers will naturally be looking to their trusted installers to help them navigate the way to sustainable heating. We’ve been working with installers for years to help them understand the latest heating technologies so that they can walk their customers through the best options applicable to their particular property. 

In tandem with the unveiling of the E-Tec Hybrid, we have been rolling out training in packaged heat pump solutions, recognising that many installers will be needing support with the transition to renewable heating systems. This one-day hybrid course is free and includes: key features of the Alpha hybrid solution; considerations when fitting a heat pump; system design; positioning; and installation. An on-demand training video is also available to view.

Q. Will Alpha continue to support its current ranges of boilers?
Yes, absolutely. All new Alpha boilers are hydrogen-blend ready – ready for as and when hydrogen becomes the norm – and we will soon be launching a new range of gas boilers with enhanced features, benefits and efficiency ratings.  

Let’s be clear, we all need to embrace zero carbon heating as soon as we possibly can. However, the tried-and-trusted gas boiler will be part of the UK’s homes for some years yet. We need to make sure we keep all doors open for domestic customers until such a time as everyone is able to transition to green energy.  

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