Combating the fossil fuel impact: how can energy storage turn the tide towards a sustainable future in social housing

First, just how serious is the impact of burning fossil fuels in households?


Nations all over the world are being drastically affected by the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.
It’s also scientifically proven that while these movements may be natural, human activity has been the primary cause of climate change since the 1800s, mostly owing to the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, producing heat-trapping gases.

A press release issued by Nesta, the UK’s innovation agency for social good says home heating accounts for 38% of all UK gas usage and an average household gas boiler emits greenhouse gasses equivalent to approximately 2.2 tonnes of CO2 every year. This is equivalent to taking seven flights between London and New York, or an average household binning all recyclable packaging for 14 years. Polling shows that 88% of UK adults significantly underestimate the carbon emissions from our boilers.

According to the Guardian news, a study by climate charity Possible, which produced an analysis of gas boilers with the social enterprise Scene in 2021, gas boilers in UK homes emit twice as much CO2 as all power stations combined. The findings highlighted the critical need for a robust Government plan to rapidly install alternative technologies like heat pumps to transition to low-carbon heat.

Since then, there have been several legally binding targets launched: first, new gas boilers to be banned in newly built homes from 2025, and then, by 2035, no gas boilers burning fossil fuels to be installed in any UK homes. In addition, there are ‘Boiler Upgrade Scheme’ and ‘zero-rated VAT on heat pumps’, which have helped set the UK towards rising numbers of installations. However, the most pressing of them all has been the target to install 600,000 heat pumps each year by 2028.

However, when it comes to transitioning from gas boilers to heat pumps in social housing, landlords frequently face challenges due to restricted space. Alternative options are available if space limits make a hot water cylinder impracticable.

A hybrid system combines a heat pump for space heating with a separate boiler for hot water, either a gas or oil boiler. This configuration is also appropriate for households with high heat demands, but it does not eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

However, achieving net zero emissions by 2050 represents a tremendous global challenge that will necessitate coordinated efforts and policies across different sectors. This is when energy storage enters the picture. Energy storage devices optimise renewable assets by allowing for the efficient and convenient storage of excess energy or power generated during non-peak hours.

What are the advantages of energy storage for social housing?


To fulfil the UK’s legally binding aim of net zero, social housing associations must reduce the carbon emissions of the homes they manage to zero. The government has set a target for all social housing retrofits to be minimum EPC C by 2030. However, there are currently no policies or incentives in place to encourage this shift at scale.

The concept of net zero for housing associations is that they must eliminate 13% of direct, regulated carbon emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels to heat water & space in residential buildings in all present and future housing stock. The CCC roadmap to net zero begins with upgrading all houses, with the great majority of fabric energy efficiency improvements accomplished by 2035 (and all social homes reaching EPC C by 2028).

According to the UK government, technologies such as battery storage systems, which facilitate the integration of additional low-carbon power, heat, and transportation technologies, could save the UK energy system up to £40 billion by 2050, lowering people’s energy bills. Renewable energy storage requires low-cost technologies with extended lifetimes (charging and discharging thousands of times), are safe, and can store enough energy cost effectively to meet demand.

Prescott Hartshorne says: “The next decade will be big for energy storage in general and for batteries in particular. It will be an important proving time for batteries and for other technologies.”


Are there different energy storage options?


Although fabric optimisation is the first strategy to improving energy efficiency in social housing, new solutions are being developed on a regular basis, and there are now numerous possibilities for retrofitting older structures. This will be used to determine the best strategy to improving the sustainability of social housing with financing from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) Demonstrator.

There is a choice of technologies which can help reduce bills and support energy security. Pumped hydro storage – where water is pumped between two reservoirs at different elevations, storing power when cheap and generating it when needed – can claim cost savings of almost £700 million per year by 2050. However, no new capacity has been constructed in almost half a century because of a lack of policy to support it.

There’s also a range of electric energy storage solutions on the market today. Electric energy storage helps the utility grid operate more efficiently, reduces the likelihood of brownouts during peak demand, and allow for more renewable resources to be built and used.

Lithium-ion batteries, which are used in mobile phones and electric vehicles, are currently the leading storage technology for large scale plants, assisting electrical grids in ensuring a consistent supply of renewable energy.

Lithium-ion battery technology offers several advantages, including high energy density, low maintenance, and a higher cell voltage of 3.6 volts. They do not require periodic discharge to ensure performance and there are several types of lithium-ion cells available, allowing the right technology for the specific application.

However, these systems are also faced with the risk of losing stored energy and are generally vulnerable to numerous environmental, technical, and operational variables that can reduce their lifespan. The Lithium-ion in the batteries can fail through overheating and cell rupture caused by factors like overcharging, short circuits, and manufacturing defects. Often, they may only tolerate 500-1000 charge-discharge cycles before their capacity degrades. This figure is rising as lithium-ion technology advances, but batteries will eventually need to be replaced, which can be a problem if they are integrated in equipment.



What are heat batteries?

A heat battery is a thermal energy storage system that stores and releases heat. It is used in renewable energy systems and industrial operations for heating, cooling, and power generation. Heat batteries use materials with high heat capacity, such as molten salts or phase-change compounds, for efficient storage and release.

With over three times as much heat and cooling energy consumed in the world as electricity, technologies that enhance efficiency and enable better use of renewable energy have an important role to play in the fight for the decarbonisation of social homes.

Sunamp’s Thermino heat batteries can work with solar thermal panels, which perform best on sunny days, and heat pumps when operating on an off-peak electricity tariff. Renewable energy technologies, such as solar PV, can also function with heat batteries. They accomplish this by sending any excess electricity to the heat battery, where it is converted to heat and stored, rather than allowing the electricity to leave the residence and enter the power grid. Using a heat battery offers various advantages. Firstly, it allows for the optimal utilisation of electricity and heat generated from renewable systems, thereby maximising their efficiency. Additionally, it helps in significantly reducing CO2 emissions from homes, and contributing to a greener environment.

Another benefit of Thermino is they are energy efficient and have very low heat losses which can bring about cost savings for users. Furthermore, heat batteries can be designed to be more compact than traditional thermal stores, offering greater convenience and flexibility in installation. Lastly, unlike electrical batteries, Thermino heat batteries maintain their performance over time, ensuring long-term reliability and effectiveness.

Phase change materials – how can they solve tenant and social landlord’s concerns?

PCM-based thermal energy storage might be the oldest form of energy storage known to humanity, as our ancestors valued ice for exactly that purpose. PCMs are substances that have the capability to store and release thermal energy by changing their phase from solid to liquid and vice versa. Plentigrade® PCM used in Sunamp heat batteries is essentially the same compound used to flavour salt and vinegar crisps, a food-grade ingredient that can be reused, recycled, or disposed of without negatively impacting the environment. It can be used almost indefinitely, with testing revealing no degradation after 40,000 cycles charging and discharging cycles- the equivalent of 50 years continuous use. PCM heat batteries utilise this unique property to provide reliable, efficient, and sustainable heating and cooling solutions.

Sunamp PCM heat batteries can significantly improve the energy efficiency of housing associations’ buildings. By storing excess thermal energy during off-peak periods and releasing it during peak demand, PCM heat batteries reduce environmental impact and optimise energy use in homes, not to mention they can deliver savings of up to £485 on the cost of hot water energy bills.

Thermal Storage UK, a new trade association, has been launched to promote the use of thermal storage in buildings in the UK and beyond.  23% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heating buildings that burn fossil fuels. The role of electrifying heat is anticipated to be pivotal in decarbonisation and enabling the country to achieve net zero emissions. Climate Change Committee states that the range for demand across our scenarios is 550-680 TWh in 2050, compared to around 300 TWh in 2018. Given the projected increase during winter by 2050, greater flexibility becomes essential. Thermal storage is poised to become increasingly significant in the battle against climate change.

Sunamp Thermino heat batteries using Plentigrade phase change materials, are extremely efficient in storing thermal energy. They connect with mains electricity and many other heat sources, including heat pumps, solar PV and boilers. These PCMs work at temperatures close to the target water temperature, utilising the latent heat of melting and crystallisation processes. A Sunamp heat battery takes up little space while providing maximum energy efficiency. This technique enables extraordinary energy density and effective thermal energy storage, providing landlords with very reliable hot water options for their residents. Because of its capacity to store and transport hot water so efficiently, carbon emissions will be reduced by an estimated 420 tonnes, or nearly 70% per year.  Thermino is an excellent solution for providing the hot water needs of social housing communities in a reliable and sustainable manner.


Get in touch with us to learn how you can improve the energy efficiency of your stock and embark on your net zero journey.

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