Zero Carbon Heating – The Next Steps

Zero Carbon Heating – The Next Steps

Global warming is happening. Melting icecaps, rising sea levels, heatwaves and catastrophic floods, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, are testimony. So, what can we as the heating industry do about this?
Well, the race to Net Zero is on and decarbonising heat is a huge challenge.  In this blog we look at some of the alternatives, but first what does legislation say …
In 2019, the UK government enshrined in law a commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050. We were the first major economy to do so.
With 40% of the UK’s emissions coming from households, it means residential properties and homeowners have an important role to play in meeting this target.   It means that our customers are not only swapping their petrol and diesel cars for electric ones, but they must change the way that they heat their homes in the near future.

The impending gas boiler ban

Gas central heating has been keeping us warm for more than half a century. Around 95% of homes in the UK’s existing building stock are centrally heated – most rely on gas or oil-fired boilers. But gas and oil, which are fossil fuels, release carbon dioxide (CO2) – a ‘greenhouse gas’ that contributes to climate change. 
In 2019 homes in the UK emitted 65.2Mt of carbon dioxide mainly from fossil fuels for heating and cooking. For homes to be zero carbon by 2050, we need a radical overhaul in the way properties are heated.  
It’s highly likely the government will legislate a gas boiler ban in new build homes starting from as early as 2025 under the Future Homes Standard.
But the gas boiler ban doesn’t apply to properties built before then. So, what happens to existing homes?  And How will we heat homes in zero carbon Britain?

The technologies set to replace gas boilers

To reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, gas boilers need to be phased out – a simple fact that is becoming harder to dispute.
A report by the EUA on Decarbonising Heat in Buildings recognises the need for a range of green HVAC systems. The two biggest contenders for decarbonising heating (and cooling) are hydrogen and heat pumps. Let’s take a brief look at each.

  1. Hydrogen – Hydrogen, a renewable gas, will be a crucial component in the journey to Net Zero. Prof Julia King, from the advisory Climate Change Committee, estimates that around 11% of home heating in the future will come from hydrogen. The gas industry is working hard towards decarbonising our gas supply, and biomethane and hydrogen are strong contenders as low carbon gas alternatives. The switch from natural gas to hydrogen has experts divided, not least because of technological and practical hurdles – there is no blueprint for such a conversion. Nowhere in the world supplies pure hydrogen to homes and businesses, so the UK would have to pioneer everything. A key advantage if the switch can be made is the fact that consumers won’t notice any difference to how heating is delivered and it can happen incrementally – the installation of a hydrogen boiler is a like-for-like replacement for a conventional heating system. Hydrogen is also abundant in the natural world. Worcester Bosch has already revealed its prototype of a hydrogen-ready boiler, which can convert from gas to hydrogen when the switch is made.
  2. Heat Pumps – Heat pumps have a huge role to play in the gas-boiler-engineertransition to low carbon heat in homes. But they aren’t a suitable option for all. Modern Building Services magazine reports that up to 54% of UK homes currently using gas for heating will not be suitable for a heat pump solution. A key impracticality, according to the EUA’s report, stems from a combination of lack of exterior space and/or the thermal properties of the building fabric, which means that a heat pump is not capable of meeting the space heating requirement. In terms of installation, there is also the issue of potentially costly disruption to floors and walls of homes. And there is the issue of cost for significantly upgrading the electricity distribution networks to cope with large numbers of heat pumps operating at peak demand times. Mike Foster, Chairman of the EUA said: “Heat pumps will play a key role in the future of heat, however it’s important to recognise that for them to work effectively as the sole heating source, the building needs to be thermally efficient, and they require internal and external space as well as changes to internal systems such as radiators.” Both heat pumps and hydrogen have a role to play in the decarbonisation of heating. Solar and Bio Mass will also feature.

Zero carbon heating: the challenges

A report produced by The Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition, The path to zero carbon heat,  urges a transformation of the UK’s infrastructure system at a scale and pace. It recognises three pathways for the decarbonisation of heat.

  1. Electrification pathway – for heat pumps. Key challenges here include:
    • Building enough new low-carbon electricity generation capacity to meet this demand
    • Upgrading electricity transmission and distribution networks to deal with higher and more variable levels of supply and demand
    • Scaling up supply chains to deploy millions of heat pump systems and energy efficiency measures whilst ensuring standards and public support
  2. Hydrogen pathway – this will involve:
    • The production of huge quantities of hydrogen
    • Building a new national hydrogen transmission system
    • The coordination of several national-scale infrastructure programmes
    • Building public confidence
  3. Hybrid pathway – A hybrid pathway, combining electricity with low-carbon gases to meet heat demand, has the potential to reduce the overall amount of infrastructure required by 2050 but brings a risk of greater uncertainty about the UK’s long-term heat decarbonisation strategy


Retrofitting various low carbon heating technologies into dwellings vastly differing in size, age and construction is far from straightforward. Many of the solutions won’t be suitable for some property types. For example, according to independent analysis by the EAU, 8 to 13 million homes aren’t suitable for heat pump use or can only do so with disruptive measures, such as solid cavity wall installation.
If zero emission home heating is to be achieved at scale, local initiatives, incentive schemes and trials in hard-to-convert buildings will be essential. Customers will need to feel confident their homes are suitable.

Customer acceptance
Customer acceptance and education about new technologies will pose challenges and intrusive retrofitting will be less acceptable to customers. Oliver Baker, CEO at Ambion Heating, says we shouldn’t underestimate what a huge undertaking the transition to zero carbon heating will be, including “winning the hearts and minds of customers.” He says it is a big ask for customers to move away from gas and the government must do more to help bridge the gap.

Skillsets, compliance and standards
For new technologies, and particularly with respect to hydrogen, the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition warns of a challenge ahead to train and ensure the capability of installers and the safety of equipment. “The workforce to deliver these conversions will be able to draw on existing skill sets (e.g. Gas Safe engineers) but retraining will be required alongside a trusted system of certification.”
It means that we must have installer training programmes to ensure future compliance to new standards for public confidence in green energy HVAC solutions.


The path to Net Zero is devilishly complicated – there are no low hanging fruits or quick fixes to be had. We face significant challenges in terms of infrastructure, investment, retraining, public confidence, suitability of technologies for different types of building, retrofitting challenges, development of the regulatory market and much more. 
It’s clear there’s no single solution. Heat pumps are a tried and tested technology but are not the only green technology in HVAC. Emissions can be reduced in homes through a combination of switching to low-carbon sources and energy efficiency improvements. This requires a myriad of green HVAC solutions, and, at infrastructure level, a hydrogen gas network.
Most importantly, the industry requires clear guidance from government, including the further development of zero carbon building regulations.
In 2019 the Committee for Climate Change (CCC)’s report on the state of UK housing, highlighted how the chopping and changing of UK Government policy has inhibited skills development in housing design, construction and in the installation of new measures.
Regarding future building standards and the pathway to zero carbon buildings, Phil Hurley, Chair of the Heat Pump Association (HPA), says “a clear direction of travel would go a long way to encouraging businesses to upskill engineers and installers to adapt to the low carbon transition and roll out the solutions required.”

What industry and consumers need from government right now is clear leadership, co-ordination of locality-specific solutions and urgency.


At Joblogic, we’re supporting the HVAC industry as it prepares to make decarbonisation a reality in home heating. Our HVAC management software and HVAC invoicing software provides an all-in-one management tool to help keep every project on track in the transition to a greener future.

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