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Electric heating – the future?

by mel starrs on October 23, 2008

in Part L

Well, I never thought I’d write that as a blog title! I’m not a fan of electric heating and haven’t been since before I did some investigation into Part L back in 2002.

However, as I was browsing through my copy of h&v news this week I came across an article by Kelly Butler of TEHVA, some of which I agreed with. As I said when I started blogging, changing my mind is my prerogative:

it is clear that as the generation of electricity de-carbonises, any form of heating that uses electricity increases in carbon defined popularity. But de-carbonisation is some way off yet and it takes a big leap of faith in political terms to guide us towards a more strategic set of policy instruments that appreciate that the services of the future need to built into the houses of today.

His crystal ball is showing him a future where the grid is decarbonised and it’s business as usual. Butler goes on to point out the applications where electric heating is suited:

domestic electric heating and hot water services are ideally suited to dwellings that have:

• Low heat requirements and the need for highly responsive well controlled heating, which is why they are so popular in new apartments.

• Restrictions on other services, such as gas pipe for high rise or economically unviable CHP; again relevant in apartments.

• Small hot water draw-off, with smaller cylinders and in some cases instantaneous delivery.

• Some form of renewable such as solar or heat pumps which needs to work with a supplementary heat source.

However, one thing Butler tries to gloss over is the fact that heating water using electricity (which is a scarce resource) could be at the detriment of using it for other uses which cannot be fuelled any other way. The grid capacity is just not there. Also the vision of business as usual with a decarbonised grid seems rosy and contrary to say, a Transitions Towns type vision. As Butler says himself, it is a big leap of faith, but I suppose it is one possible scenario of the future.

I wasn’t completely won over by the electric heating special feature though – the page opposite had a marketing pitch from an electric heating manufacturer which was wholly lacking in substance. Electric heating has it’s place, and will probably continue to replace some gas applications in the future, but an article on how to ‘trick’ Part L compliance does still not sit well with me.

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  • Will

    If you haven’t seen it yet you should read David Mackay (a physics Prof from Cambridge Uni). He has a free book looking at energy options for the UK. He advocates switching the entirety of UK building heating to heat pumps.

    It is a fairly convincing argument. However, for the scale of this sort of transition freaks me out and leaves me wondering whether the politicians really understand what sort of transition is needed to really tackle carbon emissions in the UK.

    See: http://www.withouthotair.com/

  • Will

    If you haven’t seen it yet you should read David Mackay (a physics Prof from Cambridge Uni). He has a free book looking at energy options for the UK. He advocates switching the entirety of UK building heating to heat pumps.

    It is a fairly convincing argument. However, for the scale of this sort of transition freaks me out and leaves me wondering whether the politicians really understand what sort of transition is needed to really tackle carbon emissions in the UK.

    See: http://www.withouthotair.com/

  • http://www.carbonlimited.org Casey Cole

    I think there’s a good point at the core of this: as thermal efficiencies improve, it makes less and less sense to pay for a wet heating system. But that doesn’t mean the house will emit less carbon!

    The grid will have to decarbonise for the 2020 and 2050 carbon targets. And when that happens, it might make sense to use grid electricity for heat. It’s a possibility in the future but it’s a LONG way off and in meantime electric heating is ridiculous.

    “…which is why they are so popular in new apartments.” Electric heating is popular in new apartments because it’s cheap, and that’s the only reason. If there were a cheaper option that developers could get away with and still sell their units, you can bet that’s what they’d do, regardless of “responsiveness”.

    And importantly, as you suggest, the grid is already creaking and antiquated. It won’t support the increase in demand that would come from a wholesale move towards electric heating.

    By the way, I was talking to some of the engineers looking at the revisions to part L and it looks like the fuel factor may have had its day. No more skewing the playing field in favour of electric heating.

  • http://www.carbonlimited.org Casey Cole

    I think there’s a good point at the core of this: as thermal efficiencies improve, it makes less and less sense to pay for a wet heating system. But that doesn’t mean the house will emit less carbon!

    The grid will have to decarbonise for the 2020 and 2050 carbon targets. And when that happens, it might make sense to use grid electricity for heat. It’s a possibility in the future but it’s a LONG way off and in meantime electric heating is ridiculous.

    “…which is why they are so popular in new apartments.” Electric heating is popular in new apartments because it’s cheap, and that’s the only reason. If there were a cheaper option that developers could get away with and still sell their units, you can bet that’s what they’d do, regardless of “responsiveness”.

    And importantly, as you suggest, the grid is already creaking and antiquated. It won’t support the increase in demand that would come from a wholesale move towards electric heating.

    By the way, I was talking to some of the engineers looking at the revisions to part L and it looks like the fuel factor may have had its day. No more skewing the playing field in favour of electric heating.

  • http://www.terrainfirma.co.uk/blog.html Gareth Kane

    This is being pushed hard by the nuclear industry as on the face of it this is a mechanism to decarbonise the whole economy. Problem is the supply of nuclear fuel could drop as low as 7 years if there’s a widescale shift to nuclear electricity.

    At the end of the day it is going to be hard enough to decarbonise the grid as it is. Increasing demand will make it harder still.

  • http://www.terrainfirma.co.uk/blog.html Gareth Kane

    This is being pushed hard by the nuclear industry as on the face of it this is a mechanism to decarbonise the whole economy. Problem is the supply of nuclear fuel could drop as low as 7 years if there’s a widescale shift to nuclear electricity.

    At the end of the day it is going to be hard enough to decarbonise the grid as it is. Increasing demand will make it harder still.

  • http://twitter.com/markasaurus Mark Hogan

    From an American perspective, electric heating has essentially been banned in California through the state’s stringent energy code. As another commenter correctly surmised, electric heat’s popularity can be traced solely back to its cost- housing developers can save money not just on the equipment but they often can cut out an entire subcontractor and have the electricians do the heating installation. While electric heating allows flexibility as power generation switches to clean sources, it most likely will not happen within the lifetime of equipment being installed today.

    Interestingly, in Canada electric heat is very common even in very cold areas because of widespread access to cheap hydropower. This is one of the few places where it really does make sense.

  • http://www.solarhotusa.com solar heating system

    Solar energy comes from sun to us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. When these radiations comes into contact with the devise, it is absorbed by it and turned into heat. Solar power is the way to go. Using natural energy is much more cost effective than using electricity. Work out what your electricity bill costs you per month, and see what you can save.