IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change Space heating systems

In the industrialized nations and in urban areas in developing countries (in cold winter climates), heating is generally provided by a district heating system or by an on-site furnace or boiler. In rural areas of developing countries, heating (when provided at all) is generally from direct burning of biomass. The following sections discuss opportunities to increase energy efficiency in these systems.

Heating systems used primarily in industrialized countries

Multi-unit residences and many single-family residences (especially in Europe) use boilers, which produce steam or hot water that is circulated, generally through radiators. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiencies (AFUE) values range from 80% to 99% for the boiler, not including distribution losses. Modern residential forced-air furnaces, which are used primarily in North America, have AFUE values ranging from 78% to 97% (again, not including distribution system losses). Old equipment tends to have an efficiency in the range of 60–70%, so new equipment can provide substantial savings (GAMA (Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association), 2005). In both boilers and furnaces, efficiencies greater than about 88% require condensing operation, in which some of the water vapour in the exhaust is condensed in a separate heat exchanger. Condensing boilers are increasingly used in Western Europe due to regulation of new buildings, which require higher-efficiency systems.

Hydronic systems (in which water rather than air is circulated), especially floor radiant heating systems, are capable of greater energy efficiency than forced air systems because of the low energy required to distribute a given amount of heat, low distribution heat losses and absence of induced infiltration of outside air into the house due to poorly balanced air distribution systems (low-temperature systems also make it possible to use low-grade solar thermal energy).

Heat pumps use an energy input (almost always electricity) to transfer heat from a cold medium (the outside air or ground in the winter) to a warmer medium (the warm air or hot water used to distribute heat in a building). During hot weather, the heat pump can operate in reverse, thereby cooling the indoor space. In winter, drawing heat from a relatively warm source (such as the ground rather than the outside air) and distributing the heat at the lowest possible temperature can dramatically improve the heat pump efficiency. Use of the ground rather than the outside air as a heat source reduced measured energy use for heating by 50 to 60% in two US studies (Shonder et al., 2000; Johnson, 2002). Due to the large energy losses (typically 60–65%) in generating electricity from fossil fuels, heat pumps are particularly advantageous for heating when they replace electric-resistance heating, but may not be preferable to direct use of fuels for heating. The ground can also serve as a low-temperature heat sink in summer, increasing the efficiency of air conditioning.

Coal and biomass burning stoves in rural areas of developing countries

Worldwide, about three billion people use solid fuels – biomass and, mainly in China, coal – in household stoves to meet their cooking, water heating and space heating needs. Most of these people live in rural areas with little or no access to commercial sources of fuel or electricity (WEC (World Energy Council and Food and Agriculture Organization), 1999). Statistical information on fuel use in cooking stoves is sketchy, so any estimates of energy use and associated GHG emissions are uncertain.[5] The global total for traditional biofuel use – a good proxy for energy use in household stoves – was about 32 EJ in 2002, compared to commercial energy use worldwide of 401 EJ (IEA, 2004c).

Worldwide, most household stoves use simple designs and local materials that are inefficient, highly polluting and contribute to the overuse of local resources. Studies of China and India have found that if only the Kyoto Protocol basket of GHGs is considered, biomass stoves appear to have lower emission factors than fossil-fuel alternatives (Smith et al., 2000; Edwards et al., 2004). If products of incomplete combustion (PICs) other than methane and N2O are considered, however, then biomass stove-fuel combinations exhibit GHG emissions three to ten times higher than fossil-fuel alternatives, and in many cases even higher emissions than from stoves burning coal briquettes (Goldemberg et al., 2000). Additional heating effects arise from black carbon emissions associated with wood-burning stoves. Programmes to develop and disseminate more-efficient biomass stoves have been very effective in China, less so in India and other countries (Barnes et al., 1994; Goldemberg et al., 2000; Sinton et al., 2004). In the long term, stoves that use biogas or biomass-derived liquid fuels offer the greatest potential for significantly reducing the GHG (and black carbon) emissions associated with household use of biomass fuels.

  1. ^  Estimates are available for China and India, collectively home to about one third of the world’s population. Residential use of solid fuels in China, nearly all used in stoves, was about 9 EJ in 2002, or 18% of all energy use in the country (National Bureau of Statistics, 2004). The corresponding figures for India were 8 EJ and 36% (IEA, 2004c). In both cases, nearly all of this energy is in the form of biomass.