Carbon dated

The low-carbon emissions future is heading towards us at a rapid pace. Training on how to install new heating systems could be going live as early as next year.

Manufacturers are already placing their bets with new products and, beyond them, global energy firms are also setting their direction.

A clue on how fast they are moving can be found in the analysts’ notes that go to institutional investors – that’s the people who run our pension funds and government bonds. The people deciding on long-term investments are focusing on low-carbon emissions including energy supplies.

COVID-19 has driven oil prices down but analysts say prices were already low and are not predicting big leaps up as the world recovers.

A note from S&P Global Platts, which compiles intelligence and data on the commodities markets, has this from an international panel of energy leaders held in London this summer:

“Several key trends are moving in hydrogen’s direction, including policy, supply networks and investment appetite for decarbonising fuels,” they were told by Randy MacEwen, president and chief executive of Canada-based Ballard Power Systems. “The only thing slowing us down is moving through that transition to scale.”

That includes supply, knowledge and – critically – changing consumer behaviour.

The CIPHE is already working with the government to ensure the industry is ready. Online information sharing, including webinars and open-source data, is part of the industry overhaul and the Institute is rapidly moving to be a part of this.

An early glimpse how came with the online Installer #NetZeroFESTIVAL this summer, where the CIPHE brought together industry experts to discuss the implications of meeting the low carbon agenda – including changes in training.

Designing a difference

Paul Harmer, the CIPHE lead technical consultant, explains: “We wanted to give installers something to focus their minds. We have to bring the consumer with us and design is critical. If the system’s not designed right, you’re never going to get the best out of it.

“As a Professional Body and an educational charity focused on public safety and health, the CIPHE is perfectly placed to assess how the industry can best contribute to the long-term wellbeing of the consumer and the planet. Involving the installer in the debate from the outset is critical.”

What came out of the debate is that manufacturers see the biggest risk from low take-up by consumers who, over a couple of generations, have become used to gas boilers and water tanks being replaced by the rise of combi units. A move towards heat pumps, for example, will ask those same people to move back to on-site water storage.

Martyn Bridges, director of marketing and technical support at Worcester Bosch, says the industry can’t change them alone: “The government needs to get every house ‘sort of agnostic’ to every technology. We know heat pumps will not work particularly well at high flow temperatures. Their efficiency goes down, for example.”

What do installers need to be thinking about for the future?

He says: “If we can get the heating system to be warm enough for the home at 40-45°C flow or return temperatures then we’d have achieved what government wants to see.”

But that means installers will have to rethink their approach to lower temperature differentials, he says: “We’re so used to sizing radiators for significantly higher flow or return temperatures. To go back to basic heating systems and designs is very necessary. It’s quite a short timescale – but we are starting from scratch.”

Beyond that, it’s persuading consumers that they will still be warm enough if their radiators aren’t stinging hot. “That’s probably my main worry: the consumer,” says Bridges. “I’ve no fear that the installers will grasp this quite comfortably. If the heating system performs differently to heating systems homeowners have been used to, that’s always presented us with issues.”

Consumer education cannot be left solely to the installer. In its manifesto, the CIPHE calls for a public awareness campaign on the realities of low-carbon heating in order to drive the necessary change in consumer expectations and decision making.

Although Ian Rippin, chief executive officer of Microgeneration Certification Scheme, rightly observes installers’ crucial role: “The biggest influence over a consumer’s purchase of a renewable energy solution is their existing installer. It’s quite often the case that it’s a distress purchase: the boiler’s going wrong.”

Refreshing skills will have to include communicating why a system works, Rippin says. “If an installer can convey the benefits are of renewable energy, then they can help educate. Of course, it can’t just be about the installer influencing the consumer, it has to be wider. But you’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve got to start with those installers who are keen to embrace renewable energy.”

Rippin warns though: “We’ve got to start now. Time’s ticking, isn’t it?”

Follow the money

Global financiers ridiculed BP for its pledge to become a green energy company as it reeled from the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010.

Now the firm’s current CEO is being urged to go faster by investors. Current boss Bernard Looney says the coronavirus pandemic underscored BP’s efforts to “reimagine energy” by taking a leading role in the push to cleaner, low-carbon fuels. He has set out ambitious new targets for the firm to become a “net-zero” carbon emitter by 2050 or sooner.

If you missed NETZEROFEST, you can catch up with it here.

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