Electrical heating to overtake gas by 2018

The number of electrical heating system installations is set to overtake their gas counterparts in a few years’ time, predict industry groups.

The anecdotal forecast was issued after a member of the Association of Registered Gas Installers told H&V News that residential landlords were increasingly replacing their old gas boilers with electrical heating or electric heaters.

In addition, many developers of high rise buildings and flats were doing away with gas altogether by only specifying and fitting electric heating, he said.

H&V News research revealed that there was a dearth of statistical evidence available to substantiate of dispel the observations but a Home Builders Federation spokesman confirmed that electricity was indeed the dominant energy source for heating in new build apartments.

He said this was “…probably due to construction practice, since it is easier to fit electric heating than it is to install a gas central heating system.”

Giuliano Digilio, head of technical services at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), said he was aware of both trends. He said: “Many landlords are not returning to gas for various reasons and I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.

“Traditionally, gas was regarded as cheaper than electricity and so almost everybody installed gas central heating systems; very few people relied on electric heating. That has been changing over the past 20 years or so as the cost of electricity came down.”

Mr Digilio also said concerns over energy security made electric heating an attractive proposition to developers.

Energy commentators have suggested that declining North Sea gas production means that the UK will need to import 40 per cent of its gas by the end of this year and 75 per cent by 2015, potentially placing the UK in a state of dependence on unreliable energy-exporting regimes.

“Also, as a result of the [more stringent] Building Regulations and new energy efficiency standards, the energy requirements of buildings are coming down,” Mr Digilio continued.

“In the past, commercial and domestic buildings used to leak [energy] like a sieve and heat was lost at a substantial rate.

“New and refurbished buildings now have to comply with much better loft and cavity wall insulation and double glazing standards, and the amount of energy needed to heat the average home is far less than it was.”

Consequently, electricity is now considered to be a viable alternative energy source for heating, he said.

Asked whether he accepted assertions that installation of electric boilers and heating systems would supersede their gas counterparts over the next 10 years, Mr Digilio said: “I agree with that. Developers are increasingly specifying that new apartments should have electrical heating systems because of lower installation and lower ongoing maintenance costs. Electric heating systems are also slightly cheaper.”

Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA, said: “Gas will continue to be the dominant fuel in this country for three or four-bedroom houses, but certainly in smaller properties, like flats, at the affordable housing end of the market and in lower energy properties, the electric heating industry may well see that there are opportunities for them.”

“It is disappointing that developers are moving to electric heating, since it is not the most efficient way of heating a home.

“Having said that, as we move closer towards a zero carbon economy, Government pressures are pushing private and local authority clients in that direction.

“In turn they are pushing contractors towards low carbon heating and one way of achieving that is not to install gas boilers at all.”

Mr Towse said this trend would become more prevalent post 2016.

He said: “There is going to be a big revolution in the heating market over the next 10 or so years and a shift away from gas to electricity and green energy has implications for industry.

“Installers will need to think about developing new skills, not just on the electrical side but also with regards to combined heat and power systems, solar thermal, heat pumps and a whole range of other renewable technologies.

“On the electrical side it won’t be a case of starting from scratch because most installers have knowledge of electricity,” he concluded.

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