Climate-friendly heating: can we keep warm without scorching the planet?

By Manish Pant, EVP, Home and Distribution at Schneider Electric

It’s said that ‘home is where the heart is’. It’s certainly where we are spending the majority of our time – living, working, learning and playing while the pandemic continues. In this new normal, home electricity consumption is set to double by 2050. Simultaneously, we are faced with a moral and economic imperative to reduce CO2 emissions from houses as climate change devastates communities across the world. Net-zero homes is our goal, and it’s one we can’t reach fast enough.

Power-hungry ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the main reason households account for around 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many countries have heating systems that still run on coal, oil or gas. But relying on these fossil fuels to keep us warm through winter adds to CO2 emissions. In hotter countries it’s the opposite – a lot of energy is used to keep homes cool. Yet the result is the same – unsustainable carbon emissions. If sustainability starts at home, HVAC must be the inception point.

A carbon-free zone?

It’s crucial that efforts to cut emissions don’t also cut living standards. Turning the heating off and suffering through the cold just isn’t an acceptable solution. The priority should be to cut emissions, not necessarily power consumption. Therefore, the use of clean energy for heating and cooling, as well as heating with ambient heat and heat pumps, could be an effective solution.

Regulation is already driving change in countries like the UK and the Netherlands. In these countries, fossil fuels are being banned from places where more sustainable, renewable alternatives are available: chiefly, for powering homes. Some countries use other mitigation strategies: in California, for example, all new homes must be fitted with solar panels by law.

As another way to sustainably power homes, heat pumps have already proven extremely popular in Europe, especially in Scandinavian nations. Electricity in these countries is already generated mainly by climate-friendly wind and hydropower. According to calculations by Fraunhofer ISE, heat pump systems in Sweden generate 90% fewer carbon emissions than heating systems that rely on natural gas.

However, renewable generation alone won’t be enough. When the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining, renewable energy sources can suffer intermittency issues. Electrical vehicle (EV) charging – which is becoming more popular – is heavy load and expensive to charge at peak times. This can force us to switch back to traditional carbon-based sources when our power needs outstrip supply. Sadly, we’re not yet at the point when all our domestic power needs can depend on renewable energy. At least, not without assistance from digital technology.

Make a house a sustainable smart home

To decisively cut emissions in the home, clean energy must be paired with the use of sustainable smart home technology. IoT-connected sensors and intelligent systems can provide the deep insight we need to make impactful and responsible energy decisions.

Effective energy management is central to efforts to decarbonise our dwellings. A lot of the energy consumed by HVAC is inevitably wasted – either through forgetting to turn it off when it’s no longer needed, or heating rooms that aren’t occupied for most of the day. Preventing this, however, becomes much easier once you have visibility and control through smart energy management systems.

Any home can be digitally retrofitted to become more efficient. Once energy is made visible through digital and IoT – only then it can be measured and analysed. Consumers are then empowered to make small changes to their consumption habits, to reduce wasted energy and its resulting emissions.

Smart systems can also facilitate more efficient use of renewable energy sources. When all smart systems are interconnected under one platform, AI algorithms can automatically adjust what source the house draws energy from. When a home has access to energy storage technology, it can store up excess power generated by renewable sources to be used when demand is high. This ensures that non-renewable sources are only tapped when absolutely necessary.

By combining digital retrofits, energy storage and robust AI-powered energy management solutions, we can decarbonise our HVAC systems and our homes. A smart, connected approach to consumption can keep us warm this winter and cool this summer, without impacting the biodiversity around us.

The power to change for the better

As we equip our homes with more IoT connected devices, our ability to control and manage our home’s energy needs is simply non-negotiable. A secure interoperable power management system is key to bringing meaningful benefits to our homes and positively impacting the way we live, while keeping our energy costs and CO2 emissions at bay.

 

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