Home energy simulation could revolutionise low carbon heating design
Published: 21 May 2019

The new Home Energy Dynamics (HED) tool developed by Energy Systems Catapult can help design low carbon heating and retrofit solutions to optimise the cost of upgrading the UK’s 27 million homes to meet climate targets, according to a study.

The HED simulation tool can take data from heating systems, radiators and pipe networks, building fabric, combined with consumer behaviour and weather data, to develop efficient low carbon heating upgrade pathways.

The study uses HED to map low carbon heating upgrade pathways for five common UK housing types, with changes includingimproved heating controlbuilding fabric upgrades, heat pumps (with or without existing gas boilers) and thermal storage.

This approach could provide landlords, housing associations, heating engineers, energy service providers and others with a clear, evidence-based way to plan future property improvements and prioritise upgrades which deliver cost effective energy efficiency and comfort.

The study complements the Committee on Climate Change ‘Net-Zero’ report 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, draughts or overheating, the study found improved heating control combined with modest energy efficiency retrofit could ensure the switch to low carbon heating also delivers improved outcomes for householders.

Click the image below for a breakdown of the elements HED considers 

The five houses modelled by HED for this study (listed below) were analysed to ensured low carbon heating would satisfy consumer needs in terms of comfort – using their current gas combi-boilers as a benchmark – while also considering practicalities and disruption of installation.  The plan is to continue dynamic simulation modelling across a wide range of UK housing types to expand the database available to a range of stakeholders.

  • House A (1950s semi-detached) – three-bedroom home, occupied by a family with two school-age children with working parents. The house has partially insulated cavity walls and loft, with older
    double-glazed windows.
  • House B (1920s mid-terrace) – two-bedroom, terraced home with a single occupant who works from home four days per week. The house has solid walls, some roof insulation and older double-glazed windows.
  • House C (1930s semi- detached) – three-bedroom, semi-detached home, occupied by a young family, meaning that the house is occupied most of the time. The house is solid brick with a conservatory and an extension constructed with insulated cavity walls. It has relatively new double-glazed windows.
  • House D (1970s mid-terrace) – three-bedroom mid-terrace home occupied by an elderly couple. The house has uninsulated cavity walls, an insulated loft and older double-glazed windows.
  • House E (1980s detached) – larger three/four-bedroom detached with later extensions and conservatory. The home is occupied by a working family with teenage children. It has insulated cavity walls and the
    loft of the original house is also insulated. It has modern doubled glazed windows upstairs, with older windows downstairs.

The study highlighted a number of possibilities for the design of low carbon heating systems that deliver good comfort, including:

  • Improved heating control, with an ability to set different temperatures in individual rooms, were found to be key to the design of low carbon systems, as it could improve energy efficiency and householder comfort whilst also reducing the cost of successfully deploying heat pumps
  • Electric heat pumps can provide good levels of comfort in all the modelled homes if sized and operated effectively and combined with building fabric and control upgrades.
  • Hybrid heating systems could also play an important role as a stepping stone to low carbon heat, as natural gas boilers could, in time, be replaced with thermal storage, or the gas supply could transition to lower carbon gas or hydrogen.
  • Thermal storage could help manage the demand placed on energy networks, particularly at peak times. However, the space required for traditional (hot water) thermal storage is typically larger than the space currently used in most homes. Innovations, such as the use of phase change materials or deeper levels of fabric retrofit, could make this solution more viable in future.

Richard Halsey, Director of Capabilities at Energy Systems Catapult, said: “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 those they have today.

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

“Our research has previously found that 85% of households that trialled improved heating control, 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.

“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.

“And the Catapult’s new Home Energy Dynamics tool can help stakeholders assess a range of data in order to choose the right low carbon upgrade pathways for housing stock across the UK.”