An overlooked way to dispose of natural gas in your home

From rising fossil fuel prices and volatile supply chains to the worsening of the climate crisis, there has never been a better time to give up heating your home with natural gas. The UK has a chance to replace as many gas boilers as possible before another winter of punitive heating bills arrives. But if, like me, you yearn to keep your home warm and comfortable while keeping costs as low as possible, finding the best solution can be difficult.

Replacing a gas boiler with a heat pump is a good solution for many households. Like an inverted refrigerator, heat pumps take energy from either the air or the ground and use electricity to run a compressor Turn this into warmth and hot water.

But what if you, like the residents of many terraced or multi-family houses, lack the necessary outdoor space? Ground source heat pumps require some space for a borehole or horizontal trench, while air source heat pumps are best installed where their noise will not disturb those who like to keep the windows open at night. An alternative is a district heating networkdirect waste heat from power plants or other industrial sources to homes and businesses, but they are most useful in densely populated urban areas where people live near large heat sources.

Shared geothermal heat exchange is another heating system that you’ve probably heard less about, but A report suggests it could be eligible in 80% of UK households. As with geothermal heat pumps, a shared geothermal heat exchanger uses electricity to turn low-grade heat from boreholes into a cozy home with plenty of hot water. A street that had recently installed a shared geothermal heat exchanger would show no sign of it, but each home would be connected to a series of shared boreholes that draw heat from the ground.

These can be installed far from the houses and connected to them via a pipe running under the walkway. This bypasses the need for every home to have an outdoor space. Instead, every home would need a small heat pump of a similar size to a traditional gas boiler that should fit comfortably under most stairs or in an airing cupboard.

Shared ground heat exchangers can also return heat to the ground in summer, where it can be extracted later in the year, reducing heat size and installation costs.

If you want to replace your gas boiler with a heat pump, it is usually your responsibility to start the work and finance the installation. This can discourage households short on time and money from switching to low-carbon heating.

Access to a shared geothermal heat exchanger could instead work similarly to signing up for broadband. A provider would install and operate the system and you as a household would decide when you are ready to dispose of and plug in your boiler. You would pay the operator a connection fee and then pay for the heat via a regular electricity bill.

Giving households the ability to plug in as they please without doing any work themselves could result in much faster adoption of low-carbon heating. For example, 8.5 million homes could benefit from borehole heating by 2050 compared to 2.1 million in current projections.

The common geothermal heat exchange works best on the intermediate level between single-family houses and inner-city quarters. [Image: University of Leeds/courtesy of the author]

What’s the catch?

There are problems that need to be solved for geothermal sharing to take off on a significant scale, but none are insurmountable.

Few companies are currently installing a common ground heat exchanger in the UK and installation costs remain high. This should change as new entrants see the benefits this technology offers for the rapid decarbonization of many heating systems.

If a company is going to invest in drilling the wells and installing the pipelines, they (and especially their investors) need to know that the money will pay back over time. This may mean that it is best if entire streets join at once, requiring coordination, possibly by local authorities.

Co-geothermal exchange also suffers from a lack of awareness among national and local decision makers. recent work from the Universities of Leeds and Leeds Beckett aims to fill this gap.

Heat pumps and district heating networks are great in the right settings. A combination of both, and with the right support, geothermal heat sharing could help more households to decarbonize their heating and hot water and stop relying on imported gas to bloat their bills.

David Barns is a PhD student and research associate in the field of Shared Ground Heat Exchange Policy at University of Leeds. This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article. An overlooked way to dispose of natural gas in your home


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