According to the International Energy Agency, almost 180 million heat pumps were used for heating in 2020, with the global stock increasing nearly 10% per year over the past five years.
Heat pumps have become the most common technology in newly built houses in many countries, but still only meet 7% of global building heating demand.
In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, installed heat pump stock should hit 600 million by 2030. But it’s clear that further policy support and innovation will be needed to reduce upfront purchase and installation costs, remove market barriers for renovations, improve energy performance and phase out refrigerants with high global warming potential.
Here in South Africa, the IEA says that a full roll-out of the technology could help reduce carbon emissions by 12%. But while there is a growing number of heat pump installers offering services in the country, there’s not much in the way of up to data showing actual take-up.
We think that heat pumps – both ground and air sourced – could have an important role to play in helping us reduce the carbon footprint created by the country’s buildings. Decarbonising heat has to be a substantial ingredient in the Zero Carbon journey – so how can we make this happen?
What’s happening in the UK?
It’s worth taking a look at what is happening in the UK, where its government has recently published a long-awaited strategy on heat and buildings.
The report was widely expected to set out how the challenge of reducing carbon emissions from Britain’s 30 million buildings could be addressed. Approximately 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from buildings, with 79% of this generated by heating, so decarbonising this is central if the government is to hit its target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The strategy, which includes the promise of £5,000 grants to replace fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps, focuses largely on domestic buildings, which makes sense given that there are 28 million homes and just 1.7 million non-domestic buildings.
It highlights an aspiration to phase out gas boilers by 2033 and oil-fired ones by 2026, and includes other policies such as the tightening up of minimum energy performance standards for non-domestic buildings that are rented out.
The strategy also includes proposals to upgrade as many other homes as possible to an EPC C by 2035 and fuel-poor homes by 2030 where practicable, affordable and cost-effective to do so. Most of the £3.9bn of funding announced as part of the strategy will be spent on retrofitting social housing, the homes of those on low incomes and public sector buildings.
Other measures include a proposal that mortgage lenders declare the energy performance of their property portfolios, with voluntary targets to improve these to an average C rating by 2030. There is also funding for financial institutions to develop green finance products.
We’re already seeing this happen on housing schemes in the UK, both large and small. One project in Cornwall, called West Carclaze Garden Village is a very good example. The 1500 home eco development is one of many net zero carbon projects using Posi-Joist as an integral part of the build, to allow for the smooth and easy installation of MVHR systems in every property. The open web nature of the system is giving architects and housebuilders the flexibility and commercial viability to build eco-homes, that meet and can surpass government targets.
The opportunity for South Africa
It seems reasonable to think that similar measures, mixed with appropriate targets and incentives, will be needed to help South Africa maximise its own opportunities to reduce emissions.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that MiTek is a strong advocate for a zero carbon economy. We believe our products such as Posi-joist will have an important part to play in enabling growth in the heat pump sector, making the technology more flexible and able to easily integrate in new building designs.
Design is an important factor here: for example, there’s little point in installing a heat pump if the building has poor insulation, as it simply won’t deliver the hoped-for result. If developers are looking at retrofit projects, this is something they need to bear in mind.
The climate in SA also brings its own challenges. Designers and installers of heat pumps here need to take the wide range of temperature difference into consideration. Heat pumps must be able to work in conditions between -10°C and +42°C outdoor temperature, otherwise the system will keep tripping or running purely on the element.
It’s also important that the heat pumps are protected against corrosion in coastal regions, as the salty air is very aggressive and can cause corrosion. As we have a high demand for cooling in summer, the heat pump should also be able to cool, so that the client can, for example, use one device for domestic hot water heating, space cooling and pool heating.
Heat pump technology continues to advance in much the same way as solar PV has evolved over time but costs have yet to come down, largely as a result if the reliance on imports and the Rand exchange rate. It is also not always clear what the payback time for the customer will be, and this may deter some from exploring the potential of heat pumps for their own projects.
However, we think that if SA is going to play its part in reducing global emissions, then the nation needs to consider heat pumps as part of its armoury – along with other low and no-carbon technologies.
The good news is MiTek is here to help, and we will be supporting housebuilders with our construction software to help companies design their floors, ceilings and roofs and our Posi-Joist product to help with the easy installation of MVHR systems. Ultimately, we can help house builders and architects to find the perfect solution for their development.