A hot topic

Standing in front of a room of consultant engineers and uttering the words electrical heating systems usually invokes a sharp intake of breath. Given the base information in SAP calculations and other energy assessment media it is understandable, particularly when considering fuel factors.

The current standpoint seems pretty simple; electric heating = bad, oil and gas heating = good, biomass = great. And this opinion is a reflection of the fuel factors attributed to these energy sources. But is this a fair reflection? We know that the government has very real targets to decarbonise grid supplied electricity and whilst there exists a steady reduction in this aspect, there is still some way to go.

The initial steps until now have been encouraging, stimulating a fuel factor reduction for grid supplied electricity from 2010. That said, within the next 10 years, the government’s goal is to have 30-35% of electricity supplied by renewable sources. Considering the timescales involved in project planning and execution, it won’t be long therefore before decisions to use green grid supplied electricity become a reality.

Leaving grid supplied electricity to one side, what about the fuel factoring for decentralised supply and the use of renewables to produce electricity for heating? Well here there are positive indicators. Fuel factoring for decentralised electricity production does reflect the use of renewables and becomes a comparable alternative to our over reliance on fossil fuels, namely gas and oil. At this point, highly efficient electrical heating systems become an exciting option. Focussing on the micro-generation opportunities is perhaps the most immediate opportunity and one on which system designers and specifiers can have most influence.

The decarbonisation of grid supplied electricity and the specification and promotion of decentralised (or micro-generation) systems is a two pronged attack with ambitious goals. The former will be achieved by reducing the amount of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, and replacing production with lower carbon alternatives. The latter ticks many boxes, not least the reduction in energy loss associated with grid transportation.

So the point is, electrical heating solutions are actually a good solution today and are going to become an invaluable solution in the very near future.

Electrical heating solutions today can provide a highly energy efficient, low capital cost, solution to heating needs. Smart control systems mean heat delivery occurs exactly when and where needed, instantaneously. When employing de-centralised electricity generation, the combination of efficiency, controllability, and low carbon, is a formidable solution. In the longer term, with a lean and green grid supply, the benefits of 100% efficiency and control become even more pronounced.

All of this will be happening against a backdrop of manufacturers providing heating solutions which exhibit superior control characteristics whilst accurately matching power requirements of buildings to heating systems. Manufacturers are also innovating with modern buildings in mind. With a shift towards single person living accommodation, space saving solutions such as electrical floor heating is evolving to incorporate energy saving features such as integrated insulation and automatic or intuitive heat output regulation. Imagine the scenario of a zone controlled system which even when switched on, continues to adjust its output, within the zone, dependent on local ambient temperatures.

It is therefore clear that electric heating is not the enemy of sustainable heating solutions, far from it in fact. When employing de-centralised, micro-generation principles, the electric solution is often the most suitable option, both commercially and ecologically. In the future, with a de-carbonised grid and gas and electric on a carbon par, the benefits of electric direct acting systems will better meet the on demand nature of heating use.

So, before allowing anti-electric prejudice to cloud your forward thinking, it is worth looking again at electrical heating systems solutions.

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