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Cleaner Energy Options

Heat pumps, solar thermal, biomass boilers and more!

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What Are Clean Energy Heating & Hot Water Options?

We are living in a time where everyone is trying to reduce their carbon footprint as heating buildings currently accounts for 20% of the UK’s emissions so there is a huge drive to reduce these emissions in both commercial and domestic properties.

There are many options available and we are here to guide you through these to ensure that once installed, it will meet your expectations.

Over the last few years, several technologies have been in favour only to be proved in time not to meet the anticipations from when they were installed. Today with the new Building Regulations several technologies have become more attractive. Heat pumps are now seen as a significant heating solution that will help reduce carbon emissions and energy use in supplying heating and helping with hot water. Other options also include heat batteries, biomass boilers, CHPs and an array of different types of solar panels.

The tools to calculate energy use in buildings known as SAP10 and SAP10.1 (Standard Assessment Procedure) now favour electrical heating over other fuels, even gas. The government are currently trying to implement a variety of regulations to make any new build domestic houses and most commercial fully electric from 2025. Going so far as even aiming to rule out boilers entirely for any new build property. The primary issue with this is that electricity is about four times the price of natural gas and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. To find out more about the government plans, click here.

We look at each property that is requesting alternative heat sources to evaluate the more energy-efficient equipment that will meet both install costs and running costs.

Heat Pumps

Over the last twenty years, heat pumps have become more efficient and are an excellent energy source for low temperature circuits and hot water pre-heating.

The two most common options are ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and air source heat pumps (ASHP). Ground source removes heat from the ground and distributes the heat into the building. They also can reverse that by removing heat from the building and dumping it back into the ground.

Air Source operates in the same way but takes heat from the air instead and can be reversible to cool a building in Summer. If you are interested in the benefits of a heat pump in a commercial setting click here, and for information on the common issues they experience alongside troubleshooting solutions click here!

What are heat pumps and what are the benefits?

The advantage of heat pumps is that for every kW put into the unit you get more heat out, this can range from 1.1:1 to 7:1 and even higher in some circumstances.  This means that a careful evaluation of every property has to be carried out before deciding if it will be the best solution for the future.

GSHP are expensive as they need significant land area or deep bores to get enough ground to gain the heat. They will need 50-80 metres of pipe per kilowatt (kW), or 10 metres of ‘slinky’ coiled pipe per kW, with at least a 5 metre distance between trenches with coils and ideally 2m deep. The cost to install the equipment will be between £2,000 – £4,000 per kW required depending on the ground conditions.

ASHP are installed outside with fan units passing the air over coils to extract the heat. These can be large units as size will help to minimise noise but this will mean positioning can be an issue. As the efficiency rises with air temperature and lowers the heating temperature, they are more efficient with low-temperature emitters like underfloor heating. ASHP are much cheaper and less disruptive to install than GSHP but are not as efficient. As the air coils on the ASHP require defrosting every so often and can only start and stop a maximum of ten times an hour, they require buffer vessels as a result. These will need to be 15-25 litres per kW of a heat pump. If the temperature of the heating system is required over 50-55°C then a hybrid system will be the most efficient solution with Ultra-Low NOx gas condensing boilers being used for peak load and the higher temperatures when the heat pump is least efficient.

a biomass boiler unit with bags of wood pellet fuel

Heat Batteries

Heat batteries are fairly self explanatory, they are batteries that can be used to store heat energy just as normal batteries store electrical energy. Heat batteries are not an entirely green option but help improve the capabilities of other environmentally friendly heating and hot water solutions such as heat pumps and solar energy.

When using a heat pump one of the disadvantages is that they cannot store the heat they generate and they often take a while to generate a substantial amount of heat, unless the external environment they’re installed in is a perfect match. Heat batteries tackle this problem directly as they allow any heat generated from the heat pumps to be stored and used at a later date.

Heat batteries can also be used in unison with solar power, as the electricity generated by solar panels can be used to heat up the battery, which will then store the heat for later use. This doesn’t have to be done with solely solar panels and normal electricity can be used also. Using heat batteries in this manner is an effective way to cut costs, as electricity can be used at night when the costs are cheaper (if you have an economy 7 or 10 tariff) to heat the battery. Once the electricity has heated the battery in off-peak hours, the heat can be stored and used the following day when it would cost more.

Biomass Boilers

Biomass boilers are similar to most ordinary boilers, but instead of burning a fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas, they burn plant based biological material. In most circumstances this comes in the form of wood pellets, chips and even logs. Now you may be thinking, wait burning wood still released carbon into the atmosphere! This may be true, but by burning wood instead of the fuel sources usually used to fire a boiler, you are actually making the process carbon neutral.

The reason that this is a carbon neutral process is because trees absorb carbon dioxide throughout their life cycle, they then release this carbon dioxide when burnt. Therefore, although carbon dioxide is released burning the wood to fuel a biomass boiler, it is in fact carbon neutral due to only releasing the carbon that that the tree absorbed throughout its lifetime.

Trees are also much more readily available in comparison to the other fuels; trees can be grown in a matter of years in comparison to fuel sources like natural gas, oil and coal can take millions of years to form and are considered a finite resource. Due to this carbon neutral process, biomass boilers are seen as a green alternative to other types of boilers whilst retaining much of the same functionality.

Solar Energy

There are two avenues in relation to using solar energy to provide your heating and hot water. Solar energy can be harnessed to generate electricity via solar panels, which can then be used to power an electric boiler or other equipment such as electric radiators. The second option would be to implicate a solar thermal system, these systems use the heat from the sun to warm up water directly so it can be used in your heating appliances and hot water outlets.
 

When using solar panels to generate electricity there are a variety of different types available each with their own benefits and pitfalls. Some of the most common options for solar panels available on today’s market are known as: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin film and concentrated PV cells.

Monocrystalline have one of the highest efficiency rates at up to 20% but as expected they are also one of the most expensive types of solar panel. Other benefits of monocrystalline panels are that they have a longer lifespan than other solar panel models, they are smaller and take up less space and they also provide a higher power output when compared to other types of solar panel.

Polycrystalline solar panels are very similar to monocrystalline but are of a slightly lower quality. In general they offer lower efficiency rates (up to 15% on average), they take up slightly more room and have a shorter lifespan due to being affected by high temperatures. As a result of the lower quality they’re also cheaper, so they may be suitable for properties that have a tighter budget but are looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thin film solar panels tend to offer efficiency rates of 7 – 10% but are a cheaper option in relation to their other solar panel counter parts. and they also have a shorter lifespan than both mono and polycrystalline. This is because as the name may suggest, thin film solar panels are much thinner than other solar panels and therefore take less material to make. In turn, this makes them cheaper to produce and much less durable. Due to being so thin they’re also more flexible which can be useful in alternative applications. The major disadvantage that prevents properties from opting for this solar panel is the amount of space they require. Thin film solar panels require such a large space to provide a substantial power output that they simply aren’t applicable to many domestic and commercial properties and are only suitable if there is a large amount of space ready to be dedicated to solar panel installations.

Concentrated PV cells are by far the most efficient of all solar panels, boasting an extraordinary efficiency rate of up to 40%. They manage to do so by using curved solar panels to concentrate the solar energy and ensure they get the most of this by facing the sun as it changes position throughout the day. The disadvantage to this is that they require extra equipment such as solar trackers, in order to reach these high efficiency rates which as expected can be very expensive.
 
When looking at solar thermal systems there are two main types to consider: evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors. Evacuated tubes are a series of glass tubes mounted to roof tiles, these tubes contain water that is heated in the sun and then stored in water storage tanks or other similar appliances.  Flat plate collectors do much the same but in the form of square plates that are mounted to roof tiles. Something to consider when using solar thermal systems is that due to sunlight hours varying throughout the year due to the seasons, they normally won’t provide enough hot water to fuel a homes heating and hot water solely by themselves on shorter days. They often are paired with a condensing boiler or immersion heater to account for this down time, especially when you live inside the UK and experience such unreliable weather!
a biomass boiler unit with bags of wood pellet fuel

Heat Batteries

Heat batteries are fairly self explanatory, they are batteries that can be used to store heat energy just as normal batteries store electrical energy. Heat batteries are not an entirely green option but help improve the capabilities of other environmentally friendly heating and hot water solutions such as heat pumps and solar energy.

When using a heat pump one of the disadvantages is that they cannot store the heat they generate and they often take a while to generate a substantial amount of heat, unless the external environment they’re installed in is a perfect match. Heat batteries tackle this problem directly as they allow any heat generated from the heat pumps to be stored and used at a later date.

Heat batteries can also be used in unison with solar power, as the electricity generated by solar panels can be used to heat up the battery, which will then store the heat for later use. This doesn’t have to be done with solely solar panels and normal electricity can be used also. Using heat batteries in this manner is an effective way to cut costs, as electricity can be used at night when the costs are cheaper (if you have an economy 7 or 10 tariff) to heat the battery. Once the electricity has heated the battery in off-peak hours, the heat can be stored and used the following day when it would cost more.

Biomass Boilers

Biomass boilers are similar to most ordinary boilers, but instead of burning a fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas, they burn plant based biological material. In most circumstances this comes in the form of wood pellets, chips and even logs. Now you may be thinking, wait burning wood still released carbon into the atmosphere! This may be true, but by burning wood instead of the fuel sources usually used to fire a boiler you are actually making the process carbon neutral.

The reason that this is a carbon neutral process is because trees absorb carbon dioxide throughout their life cycle, they then release this carbon dioxide when burnt. Therefore, although carbon dioxide is released burning the wood to fuel a biomass boiler, it is in fact carbon neutral due to only releasing the carbon that that the tree absorbed throughout its lifetime.

Trees are also much more readily available in comparison to the other fuels; trees can be grown in a matter of years whereas fuel sources like natural gas, oil and coal can take millions of years to form and are considered a finite resource. Due to this carbon neutral process, biomass boilers are a green alternative to other types of boilers whilst retaining much of the same functionality.

Solar Energy

There are two avenues in relation to using solar energy to provide your heating and hot water. Solar energy can be harnessed to generate electricity via solar panels, which can then be used to power an electric boiler or other equipment such as electric radiators. The second option would be to implicate a solar thermal system, these systems use the heat from the sun to warm up water directly so it can be used in your heating appliances and hot water outlets.
 

When using solar panels to generate electricity there are a variety of different types available each with their own benefits and pitfalls. Some of the most common options for solar panels available on today’s market are known as: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin film and concentrated PV cells.

Monocrystalline have one of the highest efficiency rates at up to 20% but as expected they are also one of the most expensive types of solar panel. Other benefits of monocrystalline panels are that they have a longer lifespan than other solar panel models, they are smaller and take up less space and they also provide a higher power output when compared to other types of solar panel.

Polycrystalline solar panels are very similar to monocrystalline but are of a slightly lower quality. In general they offer lower efficiency rates (up to 15% on average), they take up slightly more room and have a shorter lifespan due to being affected by high temperatures. As a result of the lower quality they’re also cheaper, so they may be suitable for properties that have a tighter budget but are looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thin film solar panels tend to offer efficiency rates of 7 – 10% but are a cheaper option in relation to their other solar panel counter parts. and they also have a shorter lifespan than both mono and polycrystalline. This is because as the name may suggest, thin film solar panels are much thinner than other solar panels and therefore take less material to make. In turn, this makes them cheaper to produce and much less durable. Due to being so thin they’re also more flexible which can be useful in alternative applications. The major disadvantage that prevents properties from opting for this solar panel is the amount of space they require. Thin film solar panels require such a large space to provide a substantial power output that they simply aren’t applicable to many domestic and commercial properties and are only suitable if there is a large amount of space ready to be dedicated to solar panel installations.

Concentrated PV cells are by far the most efficient of all solar panels, boasting an extraordinary efficiency rate of up to 40%. They manage to do so by using curved solar panels to concentrate the solar energy and ensure they get the most of this by facing the sun as it changes position throughout the day. The disadvantage to this is that they require extra equipment such as solar trackers, in order to reach these high efficiency rates which as expected can be very expensive.
 
When looking at solar thermal systems there are two main types to consider: evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors. Evacuated tubes are a series of glass tubes mounted to roof tiles, these tubes contain water that is heated in the sun and then stored in water storage tanks or other similar appliances.  Flat plate collectors do much the same but in the form of square plates that are mounted to roof tiles. Something to consider when using solar thermal systems is that due to sunlight hours varying throughout the year due to the seasons, they normally won’t provide enough hot water to fuel a homes heating and hot water solely by themselves on shorter days. They often are paired with a condensing boiler or immersion heater to account for this down time, especially when you live inside the UK and experience such unreliable weather!