One eye on the past, one eye on the future

19th January 2021
R&D testing a 100% hydrogen boiler

To help ensure that the nation is on track to achieve net zero by 2050, heating manufacturers are busy innovating to deliver a combination of technologies and techniques that will meet the different requirements of new build and existing buildings. Baxi Heating’s Specification Director Tom Murray explains.

Since the UK government passed legislation in 2019 requiring the nation to reach net zero status by 2050, we in the heating industry have been keenly aware of the urgent need to decarbonise heat in our new and existing buildings.


Heating is currently responsible for 37% of the UK’s total contribution to greenhouse gases. To date, the focus on transforming how we heat our buildings has largely centred on the UK’s circa 28m homes. But given that non-domestic buildings are responsible for 17% of UK energy consumption and 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, they too must play an essential role in hitting net zero.


How, then, to tackle that figure? As each building will have its own unique requirements, there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to the urgent heat decarbonisation challenge. Instead, we believe that applying a mix of technologies and approaches, each appropriate for different applications, will offer a combined solution to the challenge ahead. 


While we await definitive government guidance on the future energy mix, its ten-point plan for a green industrial green evolution supports our view that this is likely to include electrification, decarbonisation of the gas grid and heat networks. 


In new and well-insulated commercial properties, the merits of applying electric technologies such as heat pumps are well established. We see Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP) as the most popular and cost-effective choice of heat pump and will soon be offering them as part of our wide portfolio of commercial heating and hot water solutions. 


However, as more than 80% of today’s UK buildings are expected still to be in use by 2050, it is these properties that present the greatest challenge to full decarbonisation of heat. And it is clear that when dealing with older and thermally inefficient buildings, the technically and economically viable solutions are constrained. Given the nature of the structures and heating systems in our existing building stock, retrofitting heat pumps may not be an option at present for building operators.


So what are the other options? One low disruption, medium to long term solution is to repurpose the gas grid to transport green gas. 



As hydrogen is a gas, it can capitalise on the UK’s existing gas network infrastructure while transitioning us to a clean fuel source. Using the hydrogen gas resource for heat also means that the excess renewable electricity produced from sources like wind and solar can be put to full use in summer months to help generate green hydrogen, making use of the asset capacity even during periods of low demand which would otherwise be subject to constraint, thereby offering inter-seasonal storage. 


We at Baxi Heating and BDR Thermea have been working closely with UK Government to trial hydrogen in a number of projects. 20% hydrogen blends are being demonstrated using current boilers at the HyDeploy project at Keele University. We are also demonstrating prototypes of 100% hydrogen boilers through the UK government Hy4Heat programme, with larger scale trial projects in development. 


The government has committed £81m investment from 2021 to develop hydrogen generation capacity and to create the first hydrogen heated neighbourhood by 2023, the first village by 2025, then the first town by the end of the decade. So it isn’t far-fetched to envisage businesses and organisations occupying older buildings that run on low carbon hydrogen long before 2050.


Immediate, achievable options

But what about the here and now? We cannot ignore the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis on businesses who may be forced to strike a balance between economic and environmental sustainability. In these exceptionally difficult times, what cost-effective options are available to these organisations to reduce emissions associated with heat? And how can manufacturers support them to make strides along the path to net zero?


Realistically, many of the operators of commercial buildings that rely on natural gas for heat are likely to continue with their gas supply for the next decade. With that in mind, the priority must be to use this energy source as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s vital, therefore, not to neglect the practical, affordable opportunities for improvement. 


Replacing any old or inefficient heating plant with more efficient condensing boiler technology, for example, can be transformational – even halving gas consumption and associated emissions in our experience. 


When selecting replacement boilers, efficiency and reliability will be high on the list of requirements. Ease of maintenance, servicing and part replacement should be factored in to ensure high lifetime efficiency, along with manufacturer warranty and technical support. Boilers with enhanced control functionality and remote monitoring capability will also make it easier to optimise whole life operational performance.


Manufacturers are rising to the challenge with the arrival of adaptable next generation condensing boilers like the new Remeha Gas 320/620 Ace that are specifically designed to meet the demands of modern heating solutions. With a high temperature differential (∆T) of 10°C to 40°C and wide operating range of 20°C to 80°C/90°C, this boiler series provides the perfect heat source for heat interface units, low temperature heating and hybrid installations as well as for retrofit applications. 


Manufacturer support

While modern condensing boilers should all be capable of achieving high efficiencies, understanding how they will operate within the system is crucial to achieve the optimum results. 


This is where manufacturer input can make all the difference. On schemes requiring a change of technology or fuel source, a site visit from manufacturers to survey the existing boiler plant will help identify potential challenges at an early stage.


An all-too common issue is that condensing boilers are not being installed in such a way that they can fully condense and achieve the higher efficiencies. As condensing boilers perform most efficiently at lower return temperatures, considering fundamental design factors like radiator circuit temperatures and weather compensation control at the outset, will maximise the efficiency of the condensing boilers. 


Manufacturers can support designers and contractors in making the appropriate decisions. For example, in most commercial buildings it will be possible to rebalance systems from 82/71ºC down to 80/60ºC which will allow the condensing boilers to fully condense with the help of weather compensation controls. Relatively straightforward steps, perhaps, but ones that can make a dramatic difference to heating efficiency.


From small strides to big leaps

Businesses have a social responsibility to minimise their environmental impact, and heating is the natural starting point for improvement. Manufacturers have a key role to play both in supplying the greener and more energy-efficient products required to provide low carbon heating and hot water solutions and in supporting consultants and contractors with their knowledge and expertise.


Thanks to ongoing research and development, we at Baxi Heating are perfectly placed to provide total, bespoke low carbon heating solutions – as well as the quick wins – that will propel the decarbonisation of heat. Our pledge is to be carbon neutral in all our operations by 2030, and to lead the phase-out of carbon intensive heating by ensuring every product we make from 2025 will work with low carbon energy.


We believe that we have a responsibility to become more sustainable not only for ourselves, but for future generations. Whether it’s a small stride at present or a greater leap, the move towards lower carbon heat starts here.