Industry Insights: Does the UK need a Scandinavian approach to heating?

Promoting sustainable heating

Nu-Heat has been working with NIBE (a leading European manufacturer of sustainable energy solutions) to promote the adoption of the renewable energy and low flow temperature heating solutions for over a decade. Together, the two companies champion the winning combination of ground or air source heat pumps with warm water underfloor heating.

In the first of our series of Industry Insights, Phil Hurley, Managing Director of NIBE, considers whether a Scandinavian approach to heating could be the answer to the challenges facing the UK today.

NIBE Managing Director, Phil Hurley
The promise of a greener future

Sustainability, home building and the use of high carbon fuels are all hot topics right now, and recent Government announcements see the UK publicly striving for a greener, cleaner and more certain future.

Government has promised to support sustainability in house building, committed to protect and ring-fence the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) budget until 2020/21, and pledged to phase out the use of high carbon fuels by 2030. These are steps in the right direction that offer a positive vision of the future, but what we need now is a clear plan that sets out how these ambitions are going to be achieved.

How can heating make a difference?

You might think that, in comparison to reducing carbon emissions from transport and waste, for example, choosing a more sustainable way to heat our homes might have little impact on the big picture. However, with the Committee on Climate Change estimating that almost a third of the UK’s total carbon emissions come from heating, there is real merit in making smarter heating choices. The ability of heating to help achieve the Government’s ambitious 2030 target should not be underestimated, but action needs to start now.

A good place to begin is with building regulations and best practice for new build homes. As a nation that has committed to reduce its carbon footprint, it seems ludicrous that new homes built off of the mains gas grid are still being heated with oil, leaving homeowners with heating bills that are only ever likely to go up, and a heat source that is anything but green. Surely building regulations should reward, encourage and facilitate the use of renewable energy and lower flow temperature heating systems in these new homes?

Accommodating renewable options like heat pumps, and lower flow temperature heating systems like warm water underfloor heating, would not only tick the box for sustainability and reduce carbon emissions, but reduce running costs for homeowners and allow them to benefit from RHI payments. We need to get to the point where sustainability is the norm rather than the exception.

This is where our Scandinavian friends have the right idea. Take NIBE’s home country, Sweden, as an example. More than half of the country’s energy comes from renewables, and the use of heat pumps combined with low-flow temperature underfloor heating is prevalent. It is no wonder that Sweden’s carbon emissions are lower – and their ambitions higher – than the UK.

The right time to change

The UK’s construction industry needs support to move away from ‘the way things have always been done’ and take the long-term view. Companies like NIBE and Nu-Heat can and do play their part in supporting installers and homeowners to make greener choices, but if we are to see a seismic shift towards sustainability – and meet the UK’s ambitious targets – then the rules of the game need to change.

This is an achievable ambition, and there are many reasons to be optimistic. We are leaving behind the years of uncertainty caused by the financial crisis, and are once again seeing growth in the building sector. The confirmation of RHI budgets for another few years offers greater confidence for installers and homeowners alike – a confidence that is reflected in the growth of the heat pump market. We are starting to see recognition for lower flow temperature heating solutions in building policy. The UK has made a public commitment to delivering more sustainable homes.

The time is right and the opportunity is there – all we need now is for actions to speak louder than words.

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