Swedish know-how leads the way to smarter heating

16 November 2020

The vast majority of global greenhouse gases emitted today originate from cities. In order to combat climate change and to achieve long-term sustainable development, future cities have to develop smarter, resource-efficient ways, as well as to successfully manage social challenges that arise when people live and work in densely populated areas. The Link spoke to two member companies, NIBE and Nordic Heat, who in different ways work to develop eco-friendly technologies and reduce energy consumption from heating.

NIBE is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of renewable energy products offering solutions for heating, cooling, hot water and ventilation that reflect today’s demand for sustainable construction. “Sustainability is in our blood,” Phil Hurley, Managing Director explains. “In the UK, NIBE offers its full range of heat pumps, that generate heating from the ground and the air around us, which suit basically any building which has a heating, cooling, hot water or ventilation demand. Our new NIBE S-SERIES products connected online system makes sure everything runs smoothly in your home. By adjusting the temperature to your daily patterns, you get maximum comfort and minimum energy consumption. However, the fact that 80% of the houses in the UK are gas heated remains a challenge to this electrification of heating. In Sweden, the infrastructure is already there because you decided to move to electrification and district heating quite a while ago.”

The UK government has established the goal that district heating should meet 20% of the country’s heat demand by 2030. Currently, the market share is only about 2%. One company that works to support the development of district energy in the UK (and other countries) is peer-to-peer advisory and pooling service Nordic Heat. “We make use of the extensive know-how developed in the Nordics in the past 50 years to assist in designing, installing, and operating solutions to decarbonise heating and cooling,” Peter Anderberg, Founder and CEO says.

Nordic Heat’s aim is to speed up projects while reducing costs and risks by offering access to the extensive hands-on experience developed in the Nordics. “Our main clients are municipalities in the early stages of constructing district heating,” Peter explains. “What prevents the industry from growing as fast as it wants today is the lack of people who can make it do so. In addition, we’ve therefore also founded an international training platform – the Heat Academy – which offers vocational and professional training in collaboration with a number of energy companies in the industry, as well as a number of universities in the UK,” says Peter. “We estimate that about 100,000 people will be trained over the next 10 years in order to realise the government’s target.

A rapid change of attitude
Both Phil and Peter agree that the view on sustainability has changed rapidly in the UK in the last several years. “Sweden may have come further in its sustainability work and decarbonisation but the attitude is definitely the same in both countries,” Peter explains. Phil agrees: “When I joined the company in 2016 there was quite a large difference in the view on sustainability between the two countries. Now, however, the UK has definitely got its act together and I dare to say that the UK is probably one of the leading European countries regarding carbon reduction of our electrical generating grid. Our biggest challenge now is to continue decarbonisation in our buildings, which is a major challenge as housing in the UK is not as well insulated as Swedish housing but instead very leaky.” Peter fills in: “In many cities in the UK, house heating accounts for almost 50% of CO2 emissions.”

The driving force behind this attitude change is of course the fact that adverse effects posed by climate changes have become more and more apparent. In the past few years, the UK government has established tough targets to achieve in order to mitigate such effects. “The UK is actually one of the first major economies to set a target for net-zero emissions from greenhouse gases, which is to be reached by 2050”, says Phil. “The 2020s is really going to be the decade to start that journey and, since NIBE already has the technology, we are ready to embark on that journey now”.

Perhaps the most apparent adverse effect of climate change is that the temperatures will rise. “With rising temperatures, an increasing world population and densifying urban areas, basically what is going to happen is that we’re going to have very warm summers. We’ve seen that already in the UK over the last 10 years in densely populated areas such as London, so cooling is obviously going to become a big problem. “With ground-source technology, we would be able to cool buildings very cheaply, basically free”, Phil explains. “Instead of district heating where you pump in heat around city centres, you’re pumping groundwater around the cities and then taking that low-grade heat into your house and either using that for heating, cooling or hot water. And that’s a more economical way of cooling and heating your house.”

Decarbonisation – an essential business
When bringing up the inevitable question of how their businesses have been affected by Covid-19, it becomes evident that they work in an industry moving so fast it would take more than a global pandemic to slow it down. “So far, I would say the pandemic has been positive to our business. We’ve been able to slow down a little and focus our attention on a few projects,” Peter says. “The training that we provide through heat academy has moved online which has enabled us to hold much larger classes and thereby filling the knowledge gap in the industry faster than we normally would have been able to. While I do look forward to being able to meet people in person, we are never going to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. Some activities are simply done more efficiently online.” Phil agrees: “We were quite lucky as we were able to continue working without disruption in service to our customers and by June we were back in the office and in sales. The pandemic and COVID-19 is definitely serious, but the climate change threat is not going to go away. So, while there may be an economic decline going forward, it is evident that there is potential to grow over the next several years because of the need to reduce carbon emissions”

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