Low carbon solutions for landlords and housing associations are viable, says study

Landlords are being urged to consider low carbon property upgrades that can deliver better outcomes for tenants with a new study suggesting they can be done cost effectively.

A new analysis of data on the energy efficiency of real homes and what residents want from their heating by Energy Systems Catapult has calculated the most efficient low carbon heating upgrade pathways for five common UK housing types.

It is described as the first modelling study of its kind for landlords and housing associations with the aim of providing a clear, evidence-based way to plan future property improvements and prioritise upgrades which deliver the greatest energy efficiency and comfort.

It could also help identify the root causes and innovative solutions to problems that right now are not being addressed effectively and suggest new ways to improve domestic heating performance and control.

The study follows the recent report from the Committee on Climate Change that advised that improvements to building efficiency and adoption of low carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps, district heating and hydrogen boilers, were required for the UK to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

With two thirds of UK homes currently suffering from damp, drafting or overheating, the study found smart heating controls combined with insulation and other energy efficiency retrofit could ensure the switch to low carbon heating also delivers improved outcomes for householders.

The study utilised the Catapult’s new Home Energy Dynamics (HED) tool that takes data from heating systems, radiators and pipe networks, building fabric, consumer choices/behaviour and weather, to target the right retrofit solutions for different housing types.

The study highlighted a number of possibilities for the design of low carbon heating systems that deliver good comfort. Smart heating controls, with an ability to set different temperatures in individual rooms, were found to be key to the design of low carbon systems, as they could attract consumers through offering a better experience while improving energy efficiency.

Electric heat pumps were also found to provide good levels of comfort in all the modelled gas-heated homes if sized and operated effectively and combined with building fabric upgrades.

Hybrid heating systems could also play an important role in transitioning to low carbon heat, as these provide the option of replacing natural gas boilers with thermal storage, lower carbon gas or hydrogen boilers.

The study also says that thermal storage could help manage the demand placed on energy networks, particularly at peak times. However, the space required for thermal storage is typically larger than the space made available for hot water storage in most homes. But it points out that innovations, such as the use of phase change materials or deeper levels of fabric retrofit, could make this solution more viable in future.

‘To meet 2050 climate change targets we must eliminate the 20% of UK carbon emissions that come from heating homes, which means in the next decade we will need to be converting millions of homes to low carbon heating every year. This will be much easier if the solutions provide households with heating outcomes that are better than what they have today,’ said Richard Halsey, director of Capabilities at Energy Systems Catapult.

‘We found that integrating low carbon heating solutions, such as electric heat pumps, hybrid and district heating systems, with smart heating controls and targeted retrofit measures such as improving insulation or upgrading radiators, can deliver better heating outcomes for consumers living in existing housing stock,’ he explained.

‘Our research has previously found that 85% of households that trialled smart heating controls, were open to switching to low carbon technology, compared to just 36% of the general population, as long as current or improved levels of comfort and cost could be guaranteed,’ he pointed out.

‘This represents a huge opportunity for the development of better integrated heating solutions and related products and services to deliver low carbon heating at home,’ he added.