NSUSL examines the difficulties the HVP industry faces in adapting to new technology and climate change
The growing issue of climate change is directly affecting a number of industries, including heating, ventilation and plumbing. The UK government is under pressure to reduce carbon emissions, which could involve altering legislations when it comes to the HVP industry.
Some 14% of the UK’s total greenhouse gases come from our homes. This is a similar level to vehicle emissions. It’s estimated over than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 in order to meet UK climate goals.
There is a growing demand from consumers for greener lifestyle choices, including heating and ventilation. This has seen a rise in the demand for heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions.
Transitioning to a greener future in HVP brings its own obstacles, however. Two cleaner, greener options are heat pumps and hydrogen boilers.
There are question marks over the use of refrigerants in heat pumps, which pose health and safety risk, as well as the qualifications of installers handling maintenance of the pumps. With hydrogen boilers, there are concerns over how environmentally friendly the production methods of hydrogen are. Allow NSUSL to discuss the difficulties the HVP industry faces in adapting to new technology and climate change.
How are heat pumps better for the environment?
Air sourced heat pumps (ASHPs) extract outside air, which can be used to heat radiators and water in homes. It can generate heat in temperatures as low as -15°C. Although ASHPs run using electricity, the heat which they extract is constantly being renewed, making them a more environmentally friendly and sustainable method of heating than traditional gas boilers. There are, however, concerns over the use of refrigerants in heat pumps, particularly with maintenance.
The use of refrigerants in heat pumps
One potential drawback of heat pumps is that they require refrigerants to operate. When installing a monobloc heat pump, the refrigerant is sealed. This doesn’t pose much of a risk and plumbers who aren’t REFCOM registered are able to install these heat pumps.
However, if there is a maintenance issue with a heat pump, the refrigerant inside could have leaked. Any plumbers repairing a heat pump where it is possible they may come into contact with the refrigerant must be appropriately qualified with REFCOM. Homeowners will be unaware of this necessity, so it is the responsibility of HVP businesses and installers to ensure any installers maintaining heat pumps are qualified to do so.
A suspected refrigerant leak should be treated by a registered plumber urgently. Refrigerant is odourless and tasteless, it can also transition between liquid and gas easily, meaning if there is a leak it can be difficult to tell.
R32 heat pumps in particular are a major concern. Many manufacturers are switching to heat pumps that contain the r32 refrigerant, which is known to be mildly flammable. However, manufacturers have dismissed the likelihood of an r32 heat pump being a fire risk.
In testing, static electricity and sparks from other residential appliances lack sufficient energy to ignite the refrigerant. The only way the r32 refrigerant can be ignited is with an open flame, which even doing so intentionally is unlikely.
Nevertheless, it is important for HVP companies and contractors to be aware of the risks. Any plumbers or engineers carrying out maintenance work on heat pumps must be fully-qualified and aware of the risks of dealing with unfamiliar technology and materials.
As the government clamps down on environmental laws and legislation, this will bring new policies and requirements for HVP companies, as well as the UK installers equipped with leading the industry towards a greener future.
Are hydrogen boilers better for the environment?
Hydrogen boilers are another viable alternative to natural gas. They are a low carbon option, which if they become popular, will greatly reduce the impact the HVP industry has on the environment.
One benefit of using hydrogen boilers is that it wouldn’t inhibit the gas network infrastructure, which eight out of 10 homes are currently connected to. Hydrogen is also more energy-efficient than gasoline. There is as much energy in 1kg of hydrogen as there is in 2.8kg of gasoline.
One potential drawback of utilising hydrogen boilers is the production phase. Although hydrogen is more energy-efficient than gasoline, it is also more expensive to produce. Hydrogen also isn’t entirely carbon-neutral. Electrolysis and STR (Steam Methane Reforming) are the two processes used to produce hydrogen. Both of which can emit carbon.
The electrolysis process involves separating hydrogen and oxygen from water using electricity. However, how environmentally friendly this process is depends on how the process is powered. If the electrolysis process is powered by renewable energy, such as electricity generated from solar and wind farms, then the process is carbon neutral.
STR can also release carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The process uses steam to heat the methane in natural gas. This can, however, be captured to prevent harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere.
HVP is unlikely to be the only industry to be affected by climate change. Hydrogen, in particular, will be used in many more industries to reduce carbon footprint. The infrastructure is already in place for hydrogen to revolutionise how the HVP industry affects climate change; however, producers must ensure the production of hydrogen is carbon-neutral.
Heat pumps are more expensive than hydrogen boilers and will require more advanced installation as they aren’t connected to the existing gas network. Installers must also take into account the use of potentially hazardous refrigerants in heat pumps.
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