Most of us work to reduce our carbon footprint by avoiding single-use plastics, eating less meat or cycling to work, but few people are aware of the carbon emissions produced by their home heating. In fact, 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heating homes with fossil fuels. An average gas boiler emits greenhouse gases roughly equivalent to eating 1,263 quarter-pounders made with British beef.
To reduce carbon emissions and meet the Government target of net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to move away from using fossil fuels to heat our homes. This means that, over the next decades, people will need to insulate their homes, replace their gas boilers and better manage their electricity use throughout the day.
Heat pumps are likely to be the most popular solution to decarbonising home heating in most UK homes, as they are reliable and efficient. However, heat pumps won’t be the best solution for all residential properties, particularly for small terraced houses or flats.
Instead, some domestic properties will be heated by alternative technologies such as infrared heating, direct electric heating and hydrogen boilers. To further reduce emissions and electricity consumption coming from homes, these heating systems can be complemented by smart technologies such as smart light switches and smart metres, solar panels and home batteries.
Infrared heating is emitted from a panel, then travels through space until it reaches an object or surface. Instead of heating the air in a room, it heats up the surfaces it reaches, similar to the way the sun heats your skin on a sunny but cold day. The panel uses electricity and only requires fitting on a wall or ceiling, meaning that it is much quicker and cheaper to install than a heat pump (or even a gas boiler) and is particularly suitable for small properties.
Newcastle City Council and its partner Equans (a low-carbon energy service provider) are piloting infrared heating panels and smart heating and lighting systems in two terraced council properties in the city, to see if these can successfully reduce tenants’ energy consumption and energy bills while providing a good user experience. The properties will be fitted with infrared heating panels, a Wondrwall smart light switch and thermostat, hot water storage tank, solar panels and battery storage before the tenants move in.
There is relatively limited understanding of the user experience of whole-house infrared heating systems, particularly in a social housing setting. Nesta will investigate the two households’ experiences of the new system throughout the winter of 2022-2023. We will be in touch with the tenants throughout the cold months to understand how they are getting used to the new technology, how satisfied they are with the system and identify any issues that might arise as they continue to use the system.
The findings from this work will contribute to decisions on whether and how to roll out the pilot more widely. The research will be conducted via phone and in person interviews and the results will be published in early 2023, with the hope that the findings will be useful for other local authorities and social housing providers across the UK.