Heating Radiator, White radiator in an apartment.

Electric heating has in past been seen as an expensive and ineffective heating method that was only a last resort to heat homes that were either off the gas network or multi-storey flats that could not have gas. Electric storage heaters are the type of electric heating that tend to spring to mind as a form of inflexible electric heating. But as technology has advanced is electric heating a viable option for more UK homes?

Electric boilers

Electric boilers are often cheaper and easier to install than gas, LPG, oil boilers and they are more flexible as they tend to be smaller and have fewer restrictions of where they can be fitted as they do not need a flue, so they do not have to go on an external wall and they are quieter.

There is also a wider range of electric boilers available on the market that can heat both your home and your hot water. They can be combined with storage heaters or radiators. An electric central heating system can offer you most of the advantages, control, and flexibility that a gas central heating system offers, and remove the need for storage and delivers for other fuels like LPG, oil, and biomass.

Pros and cons of electric boilers

Electric boilers have a few distinct advantages:
· Cheaper to install
· Quieter to run
· Can be installed anywhere as there is no flue and tend to be smaller
· No need to store fuel like LPG, oil, and biomass systems
· More environmentally friendly than gas, LPG, or oil alternatives
· More energy efficient than other boilers

However, there are several big disadvantages:

· More expensive to run
· May not be compatible with Economy 7/10 tariffs depending on when you heat your home
· Tend to be smaller systems that may not be sufficient for larger homes

Who might benefit from electric boilers?

Electric boilers at present are a more viable option for those who can’t have gas in their home as financial it compares well. It also offers more convenience than some of the alternatives as electric boilers have better controls and flexibility than storage heaters, and it does not have the storage needs or resupply issues that LPG, oil, and biomass systems have.

Homes that generate their own electricity may also benefit from switching to electric boilers if their renewable system, such as solar PV or wind turbines, produces electricity at times when the boiler is in use, and if the system produces a high amount of electricity then costs may balance out.

What does the future hold for electric heating?

Advancements in electric boilers will continue to increase the effectiveness of them and bring the cost of them down so that they become a more viable mainstream option. The energy market continues to evolve and the advancements in renewable energy are starting to bring down the cost of generating energy sustainably, and with the developments in energy storage, it is making the increase in larger scale renewables viable in the electricity mix as storage allows the inconsistent supply to be evened out.

As the pressure to reduce dependency on natural gas continues and reserves are depleted the price of gas may rise and incentives to switch to other forms of heating might make electric heating more viable.

Whether electric heating is a feasible and cost-effective option to you and your home will depend on your circumstances and what you need from your heating system. If it is not an option now it may well become an option for you in the future.

Green eco house environmental background

There are many renewable energy technologies that are suitable for our homes and depending on your circumstances maybe combining two technologies could make your home reach a greater energy efficiency, make your home more environmentally friendly, and reduce your energy bills further.
Which renewable technologies work together?
There are some combinations that are more effective together but a lot of the renewable technologies work well together. Some of the best partnerships are:
· Heat pumps and solar PV
· Biomass and solar thermal

Heat pumps and solar PV

Heat pumps and solar PV marry well due to heat pumps requiring a small amount of electricity to operate which makes them not 100% renewable if the electricity used to power it is not from a renewable source. So, by combining the heat pump with a solar PV system you can either use the electricity generated whilst the solar panels are generating the electricity and the heat pump is using electricity, or you can offset the electricity that the heat pump uses with the electricity generated from the solar panels.

The solar panels will also generate more electricity than what the heat pumps require so overall your home will benefit from low-carbon and free heating as well as generating free electricity. Both technologies are also eligible for the government’s renewable initiatives, Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Initiative so they can also generate an income for you.

Biomass and solar thermal

Biomass boilers and solar thermal panels make a great partnership as they operate at their best at different times of the year. Biomass boilers can heat your home only or they can also heat your hot water, but some may require a back boiler to produce hot water. Therefore, biomass boilers are great at heating your home and hot water throughout the winter but during the summer wouldn’t it be great to not have to use the boiler as you can use the solar thermal panels to produce your hot water for free?

Solar thermal panels can produce hot water all year round, but they may require help in the winter to heat the water to the required level, therefore the biomass boiler can assist in producing the hot water instead during the winter months.

Again, both technologies are eligible for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive so will generate an income too.

Renewable incentives

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme offers financial support to homes installing renewable heat systems for seven years. Each technology has a different rate per kWh of energy generated.

The Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) scheme pays the owner of the technology for all electricity generated and an additional payment for electricity exported to the grid.
The RHI and FIT were created to assist the adoption of renewable technologies by making it more affordable and enabling them to become more mainstream.

Getting the basics right

It sensible to make your home as energy efficient as possible so that it reduces your energy consumption before you install renewable technologies. However, it may also be a requirement of the RHI or FIT that you improve the energy efficiency of your home first.

The rating indicated by your home’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) can impact on the amount of generation tariff you receive from the FIT so it’s worth improving the energy efficiency of your home first.

For systems such as heat pumps, you would need to insulate your property first to benefit from the lower temperatures that these systems run at and to be eligible for the RHI.
For help on insulating your home visit our insulation pages.

Next steps

If you are thinking about combining different renewable technologies, you should do your homework first and see which technologies will suit you and your home best. If the technologies need to interact then it is worth seeking advice from an installer who can advise you on integrating these technologies.

To help homeowners who want to explore renewable technologies we have a quoting tool that will help you discover the cost of installing renewable technologies and put you in touch with local installers who can advise you about them.

shower with flowing water and steam

When you think about solar panels you probably think of producing electricity, but solar thermal may be a good option for you. You also may think that the UK climate is unsuitable for solar thermal panels, but they can make a big difference to your energy bills and they still operate during winter.

How does solar thermal work?

Solar thermal panels work by using energy from the sun to heat the water that circulates through the panels. Contrary to belief solar panels require light not heat from the sun and so they continue to work in colder temperatures. However, the number of daylight hours will impact when they can generate hot water. The output from the panels only make them suitable for heating hot water and not for heating your home.

The hot water is stored in a cylinder which is connected to your heating system where the temperature is increased to the desired temperature. This is economical as the temperature increase required is much lower than heating mains water. The ability to heat the water in the cylinder acts as a back-up when there is not sufficient light to create enough hot water.

There are two types of solar thermal systems. Evacuated tube panels use glass tubes around the water pipes to create a vacuum which allows the system to operate better at lower temperatures. Flat plate panels are surrounded by insulation to help retain the heat, these can be installed either on your roof or within the roof tiles.

Is solar thermal compatible for your home and family?

Firstly, you need to consider if your roof is suitable. You need a reasonable about of roof space that is facing the right direction to get plenty of direct sunlight.

You will also need to have enough space to house a hot water cylinder to store the heated water or have an existing hot water cylinder. Unless you are upgrading your heating system, your existing system would need to be compatible. Most hot water cylinders and conventional boilers are compatible. Combination boilers or those with no hot water cylinder are unlikely to be compatible.

Solar thermal panels also suit larger families who have a greater need for hot water as they benefit more from the savings that can be made and the payback period is shorter.

Incentives to support you

Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is a government incentive available to those installing renewable technologies to produce heat and hot water. The RHI pays the system owner a fixed rate for the energy they produce for seven years based on an estimation of the system output.

Next steps

You should ensure your home is well insulated before you install solar thermal panels as it may impact your eligibility for the RHI. It will also help reduce your energy bills. If you need help in insulating your home visit our guides.

When looking for a solar thermal installer you need to find one that is Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) registered. To assist you we have built a quoting tool to enable you to get three quotes from certified installers.

Happy young woman reads  book and drinks coffee in bed

You may not know much about heat pumps and how they work, or whether they are suitable for your home, so let us demystify this technology and explore which homes are most suited to them.

How do heat pumps work?

Heat pumps essentially operate like a fridge in reverse. The heat exchange in the heat pump absorbs heat from either the air, ground or water, depending on the type of heat pump, through a refrigerant fluid which transfers the heat. The heat is then compressed to increase the temperature to heat the home and hot water. Many existing systems can be adapted so that they can be used by heat pumps, including radiators, underfloor heating, and warm air systems.
Heat pumps are suitable for the UK climate all year round as they can operate in temperatures as low as -20C. Heat pumps do require a small amount of electricity to operate but they produce a much greater amount of heat proportionally than the electricity they use.

Types of heat pumps

There are three types of heat pumps, air, ground, and water.
Air-source heat pumps are the least disruptive to install as they only need a small amount of space externally for the unit which looks like an air conditioning unit. The fan within the unit does generate some low-level noise.
There are two designs of ground-source heat pumps – vertical or horizontal which require different amounts of space and disruption. The vertical design requires a borehole that is at least 6 meters deep to place the pipes into. The horizontal design requires long trenches that are 1-2 meters deep where coils of pipes are laid before refilling them. Manufacturers indicate that the ground loop pipes will last 50-100 years.
Water-source heat pumps require access to water on your property to such as a lake, river or stream to place the heat exchange pipes in. The cost of installing a water-source heat pump is the highest cost of the three types.

Which homes are suitable?

Heating systems powered by heat pumps operate differently to conventional heating systems as they tend to run at lower temperatures over long periods of time to heat the home effectively. To get the best from your heat pump you may want to over-size your radiators so that they can release more heat.
Because they run at lower temperatures they are most suited to properties that are better insulated and do not suffer from draughts. Therefore, you should look to draught-proof and insulate your property prior to considering one as this will also impact the size of the system. If you need help we can help you to find local insulation installers.

Incentives

Most heat pumps are eligible for the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme which offers financial support for seven years to homes installing renewable heating systems. It offers a fixed rate per kWh of energy generated based on the technology installed. The scheme is designed to help make renewable technology more affordable and become more mainstream. It also requires you to insulate your property prior to installation.

Next steps

If you like the sound of heat pumps, then it is worth exploring which system would be best for your home and the potential savings you can make. For homes off the gas network or those using electricity to heat the savings are much greater.
You will need to consider the space and resources around your home and the level of disruption you are willing to have when deciding which type and design of heat pump would be best. To help homeowners we have developed a useful heat pump quote tool which generates quotes from three installers.

Heater radiator on yellow wall in house. 3d image

Wouldn’t it be great if the wasted energy from your heating system could be used to power your home? This is possible with a combined heat and power (CHP) boiler as it uses the waste gases to generate heat and electricity at the same time.

The models available for the domestic market are known as micro-CHP.

How does it work?

A micro-CHP boiler will produce heat like any other boiler but instead of wasting the gases that are created as a bi-product it uses them to drive an electricity generator within in the boiler unit. This electricity can then be used in the home or be exported to the national grid.

Technology in this area has advanced in the last 10 years and there are several micro-CHP models available that use Stirling engine powered technology. However, over the next 5-10 years advancements could see fuel cell technology starting to be more widely used.

The current micro-CHP boilers are a similar shape and size as some standard boilers and can be floor standing or wall mounted. They run either mains gas or LPG and can match the heating output of a standard boiler. The energy used generates 6:1 heat and electricity and can generate 1kW of energy when at capacity.

Install and maintenance

When searching for an installer you will need to ensure that they are approved by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme if you want to receive the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT), and they will need to be a gas safe engineer.

Due to the boiler being very similar in terms of space requirements to a standard boiler it can often be easily homed in the same place as your previous boiler and can be connected to your existing heating system.

Once installed the servicing and maintenance costs are fairly similar to standard boilers, although you would need to use a specialist engineer who is experienced in working on micro-CHP.

What are the advantages?

CHP is regarded as a low-carbon technology as it is a more efficient method of burning fossil fuels for heat as it uses the waste gas to generates electricity, and therefore it reduces the carbon footprint of your home.

Not only will the boiler heat your home and produce electricity it will also generate a cash income. As a low-carbon technology that generates electricity, it is eligible under the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) to receive an income for every kWh of electricity generated as well as an export tariff for exporting the electricity.

The advantage that micro-CHP offers over other domestic electricity generating technologies is that it is more likely to be generating energy when you are home to use it, unlike solar PV unless you are home during the day. This means that you are more likely to use the electricity you generate than exporting it which offers a much lower rate than buying electricity from an energy company.