Pathways to Low Carbon Heating: Dynamic Modelling of Five UK Homes
Published: 21 May 2019

Nearly 20% of UK carbon emissions are produced from domestic heating. At the same time, there is uncertainty over the ability of low carbon heating solutions to match the household comfort currently provided by gas central heating for the majority of homes in the UK.

Improving control of how we heat our homes could help to unlock low carbon solutions that can meet household comfort needs, save energy and reduce carbon emissions. It could also play an important role in delivering more sophisticated domestic energy services of the future.

This report utilises Energy Systems Catapult’s Home Energy Dynamics (HED) tool to show how better data and control combined with dynamic simulation of heating at home could help design and deliver a wide variety of more appealing and better performing low carbon heating solutions, including electric, hybrid and district heating.

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Key points

The key findings of this project were:

  • Improved control of heating in individual rooms can improve comfort, energy efficiency and is an important element in the design, integration and operation of low carbon heating. Recognising that payback and energy cost savings have not so far proved a sufficient driver to stimulate the domestic energy efficiency market, delivering improved comfort could provide a valuable mechanism for engaging householders and enabling industry to deliver better performing low carbon heating solutions.
  • Electric heat pumps can provide good comfort in existing gas heated homes if sized and operated effectively in combination with targeted building fabric upgrades. Operating heat pumps with a higher outlet temperature can provide better thermal comfort with less costly and disruptive fabric and radiator upgrades.
  • Hybrid heating systems could play an important role in transitioning to low carbon domestic heat. Hybrids can deliver comfort and convenience and provide optionality to replace natural gas boilers with thermal storage, lower carbon gas or hydrogen boilers (from a repurposed gas network), or deeper energy efficiency improvements to the building fabric.
  • The costs of low carbon heating upgrades cannot be met through energy savings alone. Previous research has identified economic, political and technical barrier s to the mass market uptake of low carbon heating. This study has identified the potential for exploiting improved comfort, convenience and control to improve consumer engagement and potential for innovation to increase appeal and help reduce costs for consumers.
  • Thermal storage in homes could help manage the demand placed on energy networks and reduce peaks by providing greater flexibility when energy is supplied and used in the home. However, the thermal storage capacity required is typically larger than could be provided by the space available for hot water storage in most homes. Innovations in domestic thermal storage, such as use of phase change materials or delivering deeper levels of fabric retrofit, could contribute to managing peak heating demand.
  • Improved data and simulation of domestic energy systems can help deliver low carbon heating solutions that deliver consumers the comfort they want and value. The approach
    outlined in this report could be further developed and utilised by industry to better target retrofit and low carbon heating solutions and inform the design and delivery of domestic energy services.

The source of this report is the Integrated Electric Heat project, delivered by Energy Systems Catapult for the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). The original report for this can be downloaded here.

Click the image below for an overview of the elements considered by the Home Energy Dynamics toolkit