Decarbonisation – the countdown to net zero

As the countdown to the UK’s 2050 net zero goal continues, an element of uncertainty still remains. What can be done to decarbonise our energy supply? How can a better, more far-reaching use of renewable energy be achieved, and how can supply chains become cleaner and greener? One thing is clear, businesses need to start adapting buildings and sites now, as Adam Pigott, engineering manager at Kinect Energy Group, explains.

Despite targets being set for 2050, there is the possibility they might be brought forward. For those that leave it too late, social pressures and government legislation could force them to comply and by then costs will have rocketed.

By auditing all areas of your business, from energy consumption, waste and transport, to how you heat buildings, finding ways to adapt will put you in a prime position to roll out any modifications in time – and more importantly will help save you money in the long-run.

Decarbonising heat

Oil and gas currently power roughly 26 million commercial boilers across the UK, and with heating accounting for over a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, phasing out these traditional fuel sources is at the top of the hit list. New schemes are being introduced to gradually phase out conventional boilers powered by gas and oil, but the question everyone is asking – what will they be replaced with?

Unfortunately, there’s not a one size fits all approach and many solutions are still in their infancy and not ready to be rolled out at scale.

Low carbon heating alternatives have been introduced over the years, such as electric heat pumps and biomass boilers, and as people commit to becoming greener adoption is on the increase. However, uptake is still low and only scratching the surface.

Schemes are being rolled out that will involve the replacement of boilers with electrically driven heat pumps, either a ground or air source. While this switch might benefit smaller commercial sites, for larger establishments an alternative would be needed. If you think that most buildings use radiators that are sized for a boiler that outputs water at 80oC, a heat pump can only achieve a water temperature of between 50 to 55oC, which deteriorates the higher this temperature is pushed. Heat pumps would be put under pressure during colder months and unable to maintain a sufficient temperature.

Industrial boilers are much larger and many processes require heat at many hundreds of degrees or even higher, therefore, heat pumps are not a solution. Hydrogen may take more of a role, as this can be burnt without the emissions. Some high temperature industrial heat requirements may be resolved using hydrogen, but the economics behind producing the fuel means that this is unlikely to be a widespread solution.

Cities, such as Leeds and its H21 Leeds City Gate scheme, are looking at low carbon heat networks, such as hydrogen to reduce heat emissions. It could be that hydrogen is a viable solution, as the only substance we can burn where nothing else can replace fossil fuels. However, questions still need answering over how practical it is at scale for space heating.

Underfloor heating is another solution that can be used as a heat exchanger and can accept a much lower temperature heating medium. New builds are certainly one step closer boasting certain design elements that will support any modern adjustments, such as installing underfloor heating and heat pumps.

For older buildings less so. Underfloor heating only works if the building has solid floors. Floorboards with a void below present an entirely new set of issues. Retrofitting underfloor heating is both expensive and disruptive and involves ripping up floors to lay pipes, screeding, installing new pipe manifolds and control systems.

As with anything significant, seeking expert help is crucial before you undertake any alterations to your buildings or sites.

Increased renewable penetration

Generating and storing power from renewable sources such as solar and on/offshore wind will play a vital role as we move away from fossil fuels. Intermittency is a challenge, however, trying to generate the same quantities from conventional fossil fuel power when there is limited or no sun or wind.

Storing energy using batteries has been mooted as a solution to help alleviate the issue of intermittency and increase opportunities for businesses to utilise on-site renewables. Businesses benefit from resilience against system outages and can take advantage of cheaper tariffs or even sell energy back to the grid.

Before you embark on battery storage it’s worth noting that this technology is still being developed and there may be further efficiency benefits that are yet to be identified. Current battery storage options may not be technically or financially feasible for every organisation, so it’s important to obtain advice to see whether it’s the right option for your business.

Some businesses with larger sites are turning to solar power, installing panels on roofs, enabling them to produce the required energy on-site.

Electrifying fleets

Switching fleets to electric vehicles (EVs) can be a useful step in reducing a company’s carbon footprint, however, certain challenges need to be taken into consideration.

Electrifying commercial transport on a large scale will have implications on electricity supply, potentially creating an increase in capacity at times of peak demand. This is where we are likely to see the evolution of smart charging, which measures the optimal time to charge depending on local and national demand, price signals, time of day, charging preferences and battery charge state.

The number of charging points will need to be considered to accommodate demand, as well as how to manage them. If you think that most fleets will charge at the end of the day or overnight, some businesses are devising ways to use charging points at low peak times and allowing employees and local EV users to access the charging points during the day, and therefore generating an additional income for the business.

For heavy transport requirements, it is clear there is still work to be done to develop solutions, other than moving freight by rail, rather than road.

Reducing Waste

Waste management will also come under scrutiny, so start thinking now about how you can reduce, reuse and recycle. Effective waste management can support reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Processes will need to be audited to minimise waste, including sites and supply chains.

Getting buy in from staff makes it a team effort. Simple things can be considered, from what can be recycled, how packaging can be reduced, to going paperless.

The new Resources and Waste Strategy has introduced an extended roll-out of initiatives such as extended producer responsibility schemes, new product standards and more efficient design to prompt businesses and individuals to repair goods or equipment over discarding and buying new.

Act now and reap the benefits

Net zero goes beyond how we will heat and light premises; it will affect supply chains and have an impact on customers and employees. However, being savvy and planning ahead to implement changes to your business will stand you in good stead. Those that choose to wait may get hit with higher costs.

Energy experts, such as Kinect Energy Group can help you identify and integrate the best solutions into your business strategy, so it’s important that you seek advice before embarking on any significant changes to your building or site to ensure they are fit for purpose.