Mark Wilkins, Head of Training and External Affairs at Vaillant, explains what changes we can make in the UK right now to get decarbonisation moving in the right direction.

In the final days of her leadership, Theresa May pledged that the UK would “end its contribution to climate change” by committing to a ‘net zero’ carbon emissions target by 2050. 

The path ahead is not entirely clear, but will undoubtedly involve displacing fossil fuels in favour of low carbon heating sources.

Heat pumps have been lauded as one of the solutions to the UK’s carbon reduction mission, as they are already widely used in the rest of Europe, particularly Scandinavia. Powered by electricity, these appliances extract latent heat from the ground or surrounding air to provide heating that is cleaner and significantly more efficient than traditional fossil fuel boilers. 

Although we fully support the growing use of heat pumps, the reality is we do not currently have the grid capacity to support their mass uptake and consequent increase in demand for electricity, especially as the upcoming ban on fossil fuel vehicles has the transport industry vying for its share. To make widespread adoption of heat pumps a feasible option, we must treat improving our electricity infrastructure as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’.

In the meantime, we should think of energy efficiency as the ‘first fuel’, and prioritise reducing the consumption of heat and energy by ensuring every household is well insulated and has intelligent heating controls. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a programmer, room thermostat, and thermostatic radiator valves can save 330kg carbon dioxide per year in a typical three-bedroom semi.

If you also take into account the additional efficiencies that smart controls with weather compensation and other technologies can provide, it’s evident that a robust controls strategy is a key piece of the net zero puzzle.  

The introduction of Boiler Plus in April 2018 was a good start, but the additional measures only apply to combi boiler installations, meaning nearly a quarter of the market is being overlooked. Boiler Plus should not just be about the efficiency of combi boilers, the additional controls requirements should extend to all heating systems irrespective of the heat generator. 

We would like to see an extension to Boiler Plus so that it also applies to system boilers, open vent boilers, and other heating technologies – essentially evolving Boiler Plus to become ‘Heating Plus’. 

It’s time to take action to minimise the effects of global warming before it’s too late. Mandating the use of heating controls on every system is something we can act upon immediately that will have tangible benefits for the environment.