HYBRIDS AS THE BRIDGE TO RENEWABLES

The market for renewable energy based heating systems has been clearly defined as one for people who are off the mains gas grid or understand that new build properties (mainly self -builds) can benefit the most. This has been reinforced by the interim Renewable Heat Incentive Premium Payments scheme (RHPP) which is offering a one-off cash incentive for those not connected to the mains gas grid.

For the twenty two million homes on the gas grid, what are the options, given that the majority of these properties are old and harder to heat than new builds? Gas prices, despite their volatility, are still relatively low and for those on the grid it is hard to justify the higher cost of a renewable energy based solution, even if one can be found – such as a high temperature heat pump or biomass boiler – that is suitable for the property.

 

Heat pump and boiler manufacturers understand this and are now developing and marketing a new “hybrid” alternative. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has researched this market and sees strong potential for hybrid, given that the fossil fuel boiler market is not likely to decline any time soon. This is good news for homeowners and boiler installers alike as it provides a fresh alternative to the other two camps of fuel only or renewables only installations.

By widening the renewables market, hybrids offer greater choice and flexibility. A major benefit is that they will help us to reduce running costs and carbon emissions, whilst allowing us to revert to fossil fuels to power us through the worst of the UK winter months.

A hybrid system offers good economies as the system is set up to understand the cost of the energy tariffs and it decides if it should run on mains gas (or oil & LPG) or its heat pump. With rising gas prices, the economics then favour the heat pump as the gap between the cost of electricity and gas widens as gas prices increase. The UK climate actually will allow the use of the heat pump for between 60-75% of the heating season. Some systems also allow boiler or heat pump only modes, as well as parallel running.

For most UK homes space is often important and something that more traditional renewables based systems fall foul of. Vendors’ offerings vary – some have fully integrated solutions combining the fuel boiler and heat pump indoor unit, whilst others have separates. Combination boiler models are ideal for space limited installations.

So does the UK renewables market finally have the middle ground solution to meet our growing energy and CO2 emission challenges? It would certainly seem so.