Home » Climate Action » Help decarbonise cities by rethinking the way we heat and cool buildings

Jose La Loggia

President of the Commercial HVAC business, Trane Technologies 

Climate innovations in heating and cooling that can make a positive difference in reducing global warming already exist today. However, take-up in the UK has not yet had a major impact.  

By rethinking how we manage our heating and cooling systems, we can reset our course and radically reduce the emissions of our buildings. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said that for the UK to hit its net zero targets, it must eliminate emissions from buildings by 2050

An electric future 

In the UK, 66% of emissions from commercial buildings are caused by heating systems — mainly from fossil fuel sources. It is estimated that only 1% of heating in the UK comes from renewable sources. As a nation, the UK will have imported over £16 billion worth of fuel for heating by the end of the year

This historic, fossil fuel-driven approach explains that when it comes to the climate crisis, heating and cooling have certainly been part of the problem. That’s precisely why they must now be — and are already — part of the solution.  

With great gains in the decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity grid, the future of how we heat our homes and commercial buildings (ie. hospitals and factories) must surely be electric. Renewable energy, ‘waste heat recovery’ technology, combined heating and cooling systems and thermal energy storage are all available today — so why has take-up not matched our climate ambitions? 

A new perspective on heat 

Britain has become used to reducing, reusing and recycling for packaging and wider goods; yet, we have still not embraced this thinking on energy. We let our heat escape when cooling, then waste the energy used to bring down the temperature when the thermostat is raised again. 

Designed to use as little energy as possible, a combined system for heating and cooling — without the reliance on fossil fuel — will capture waste heat and save it for when it’s needed next. This saves energy in the switches between heating and cooling which, in a large building like a hospital or factory, could occur several times a day.  

During an economic crisis, it’s no surprise that cost is often the driving force behind investment decisions, but the stakes are high; and the climate crisis requires radical new thinking

The UK will have imported over £16 billion worth of fuel for heating by the end of the year.

Less purchasing, more leasing 

An element of the success of the electric vehicle (EV) transition has been the shift from purchase to leasing with far fewer people today buying new cars and vans. We lease our chosen vehicle, upgrade it for a better model and return it when we’re done — all with very little upfront investment.  

I believe the same approach to meeting the heating and cooling needs of our buildings can add huge benefits. By leasing and renting, known as ‘Heat as a Service,’ the owners of large commercial buildings can benefit from the savings that come with using the latest available technology. They can then upgrade their systems as efficiency improves in the years that come. 

Buildings: the next energy frontier 

Decarbonising our buildings will signal whether there is a real commitment from owners of buildings and their tenants in helping the country move towards achieving its net zero goals. We can support city decision-makers to make the best long-term decisions on heating and cooling.  

We can achieve this and meet our climate ambitions. Not only will it help deliver the energy transition we need but by rethinking the investment in heating and cooling, it is the financially prudent option as well.  

Contact Jose here: [email protected]

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