Renewable heating is the future for commercial buildings

Modern heat pumps are suitable for all types of commercial buildings and can be used in conjunction with renewables to help the UK meets its climate change targets, as Mitsubishi Electric’s James Chaplen explains

In 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050 – a landmark moment on the road to net zero. To meet that target, owners and managers of commercial buildings are increasingly facing more standards, regulations and legislation to promote carbon reduction.

This may pose challenges when it comes to investing in building service technologies, but the net-zero goal also provides an opportunity to embrace new approaches to the design and operation of commercial buildings.

When we look at reducing the carbon impact of a building, heating is an important factor to consider. Heating and hot water are significant contributors a building’s carbon emissions. In fact, they create nearly a third (32%) of the total carbon emissions in the UK. Luckily, the technology to heat commercial buildings in a more energy efficient, renewable way is already out there – in the form of heat pumps.

So, what benefits can heat pumps offer, and how can building managers be sure that they are the right solution for a commercial space?

The rules to play by
 There are already regulations in place to help reach net-zero – from the Climate Change Act in 2008 to the Green Growth Strategy in 2017. More specifically, there is legislation focused on the provision of heat to commercial buildings that needs to be considered.

Part L of the Building Regulations states that non-domestic buildings should be moving to low-carbon heat sources, the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards means it’s illegal to let any property with EPC rating of less than band ‘E’, and the Non-Domestic RHI has been extended until 2022, in order to help overcome barriers to investing in renewable heating.

There is also growing interest in embodied carbon in commercial buildings, and considering the amount of carbon produced by a building across its whole lifecycle, it’s important to understand the full environmental cost of the extraction, processing, manufacture, delivery and assembly of every single product or material used.

Needing to consider all of these factors may seem like a lot, but it serves to show that focusing on renewable heating now is the best way to future-proof commercial buildings for years to come.

 Heat pump technology is the answer
Heat pumps are central to reaching this decarbonised future, with the Carbon Trust finding that heat pumps have the potential to deliver CO2 savings of up to 70% compared to conventional electric heating, and up to 65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler.

The government has already set a target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2030, and the Committee on Climate Change estimate that 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed by 2050 to achieve the net zero goal.

To reach this goal, uptake needs to maintain momentum. As well as offering renewable heating, heat pumps allow for a reduction in running costs and increased efficiencies, and are increasingly becoming the first choice for building managers planning renovations – because they are designed for both retro-fit and new build, are easy to design and install, and are scalable to work with other systems. This means they’re a suitable solution for almost any space, and are even able to work alongside existing heating systems in a hybrid situation if required.

The right heat pump for the job
A heat pump is the ideal solution for commercial buildings, it’s just a case of finding the right one for the job. In the years since heat pumps first became available, the choice of heat pumps has expanded, and building owners are now able to select exactly the right equipment for a building’s requirements.

For example, heat pumps can now work at higher temperatures, meaning they are a great option for spaces like hotels, hospitals, and leisure centres where there is a high demand for hot water at peak times – removing the need to use a gas boiler.

This is also a compelling case for heat pumps in mixed use buildings – which is a burgeoning space in the UK built environment. Buildings which combine residential homes and commercial businesses have a wide variety of heating and cooling requirements within the same structure. Traditionally, this is where gas boilers, combined heat and power systems or electric water heating would have come in. Now, high temperature heat pumps – like the 40kW Ecodan QAHV – can deliver hot water up to 90°C, helping businesses increase the efficiency of hot water production while slashing their carbon footprint.

Other heat pumps can offer options for a modular approach, so that multiple devices can operate in one system. This means that the multiple unit system can cascade available units on and off, to meet the required load of a building. It also means heat pump installations are scalable, and can work for a small doctors surgery through to entire district heating projects.

Modern heat pumps can also be applied in buildings alongside other technologies, and boost the renewable element of a project – reducing the requirement for heat energy

Finally, to satisfy these needs without compromising on sustainability and the green imperative would have been challenging, before the advent of commercial heat pumps.

Reaching net-zero and moving to renewable technology is now a priority for everyone. For building services professionals, there is a real opportunity to lead the way, and encourage clients to take a new approach to heating and hot water in commercial buildings. The heating equipment we install today will be in a building for at least a decade, so installing a heating system based on fossil fuels might risk leaving the building as a ‘stranded asset’ in the future. Making the move to renewable heating will help ensure buildings are meeting efficient and environmental standards for years to come.

About the author
James Chaplen, is senior product manager at Mitsubishi Electric