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Time to re-evaluate views on electric heating

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Various drivers for electric heating are gaining in importance, says Colin Timmins of BEAMA

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For a long time, electric heating has boasted benefits to social housing providers. Yet with increasing debate about the future for heating in homes surrounding the need to reduce carbon emissions, ensure security of supply and deal with fuel poverty, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that electric heating will continue to offer an important option for home heating. It can in fact be more attractive when we consider how the future might look.

For social housing providers, the need to provide energy-efficient heating solutions and to ensure that tenants do not suffer from fuel poverty is very real. At the same time, choosing the most appropriate heating systems for both new build and refurbishment means that there is a need to consider both economic and practical issues.


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Considering the future of electric heating Considering the future of electric heating

No pipework

From a practical perspective, electric heating has the advantage of not needing any pipework, which makes the installation straightforward. This can be a real advantage for tenants in a refurbishment situation, meaning less disruption and a quicker installation, and equally it is a benefit for social housing providers if they are having to provide alternative accommodation while the refurbishment is taking place.

Heaters can act independently or as part of a configured system. This can provide an advantage for long-term maintenance because single heaters can be upgraded rather than entire systems.

The speed of installation is also beneficial for new build, both for faster build times but also for the potential to make cash flow more manageable because products and labour are not required until the second fix wiring stage.

There is a commonly held view that because the unit costs of electricity are higher than other fuels, electric heating is far more expensive to run. This does not have to be the case.

Electric heating will generally offer low capital and installation costs. This can provide the opportunity to economically increase levels of insulation in tandem with reducing running costs. What is more, given that electric heating does not require regular maintenance or annual safety checks, it can be expected to last an average of 50% longer than a gas system. An all-electric home will not need a gas supply with the associated standing charge (very few homes do not have an electricity supply). This all adds up to a very compelling economic case.

There can also be associated advantages to electric heating systems. The fact that they are not water-based means that there is far less risk of damage to properties. This is something that can be of particular concern for some housing providers. Water problems can involve urgent repairs where a problem occurs. With storage-based systems, the constant low heat can also protect the building from risks of condensation and mould growth in the long term, thereby reducing overall building maintenance costs.

“The constant low heat can also protect the building from risks of condensation.”

For new build properties, one concern has always been how to ensure building regulation compliance with electric heating systems. Under approved Document L1A – Conservation of Fuel and Power in New Dwellings, the calculated rate of CO2 emissions for a new dwelling must not be greater than the “target CO2 emission rate”.

The standard assessment procedure (SAP) calculation methodology (which is used to calculate the CO2 emission rate) includes carbon emission factors for different fuels to reflect their upstream environmental impact and this is currently nearly two-and-a-half times higher for electricity than it is for gas. As a consequence, it can restrict compliance for electric systems only to flats and very small houses, but this is set to change.

The proposal for the new version of SAP, which was consulted on earlier this year, is to reduce the emissions factor for electricity by 23%. This is to reflect increasing decarbonisation of the electricity network as coal generation moves to gas and the proportion of renewable energy generation increases. This will make it much easier to obtain building regulations compliance with electric systems and BEAMA will be producing a guide to explain the changes once the final figures are confirmed.

Environmental credentials

This is also significant because it reflects the long-term trend for electricity. Under the Climate Change Act, the UK government is legally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. As part of this, the electricity supply will become increasingly decarbonised. This means that the environmental case for electric heating will only get stronger over the next few decades, and alongside this there will be other changes that make electric heating increasingly attractive:

  • Homes will need to become far more energy efficient, with very small heat loads. Such scenarios are ideal for electric heating systems that are highly responsive, making them more suitable for satisfying small heat demands and accommodating passive heat gains.
  • There will be a drive towards on site renewables, whereby it will become advantageous to have electric heating and hot water that can take direct advantage of abundant renewable generation and possibly store it.
  • The fact that electric storage heaters and electric stored hot water are among the few technologies currently providing thermal storage in homes also makes them ideal for the drive towards connected homes linked into a smart grid. This is beneficial from a network perspective but it can also offer real advantages to social housing tenants offering them early access to the benefits of differential rate tariffs from energy suppliers.

The long-term trends for energy supply in the UK mean that electric heating will continue to be a significant technology and can offer real benefits in the future.

Manufacturers of electric heating, both storage and direct acting, are now producing products that are highly efficient and better controlled. Innovative remote app-based solutions, absence and presence detection are all designed to optimise heating provision.

They are very much ready for the future so, if you find your views on electric heating are based on how things used to be, it could be time to get a fresh perspective.

Colin Timmins, association director, BEAMA

 

This article was written independently and was commissioned as part of a package sponsored by Dimplex

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