Boilers – a critical piece in the energy puzzle

Remeha looks at the impact of technological change on the heating industry and why the gas condensing boiler will continue to play a key role in the low-carbon, energy-saving heating systems of the future

With rising fuel prices and stark warnings of the devastating results of climate change, households and businesses are more keen than ever to become more efficient in their use of energy. With heating accounting for as much as 60 per cent of a building’s total energy use, according to the Carbon Trust, the importance of making heating more energy-efficient is only too clear. Manufacturers have responded to the challenge with a wide range of sophisticated new renewable technologies and new generations of traditional heating equipment that promise higher heating efficiencies and reduced carbon emissions to help lower fuel bills, bring an end to fuel poverty, and prevent global warming.

Despite the wider choice of products and the appeal of new technology, the gas condensing boiler continues to play a crucial role in supplying low-carbon, energy-saving heating in homes and commercial buildings across the UK. Not only is it a familiar technology with proven results, but it is flexible, equally capable of operating as the sole heat provider or working in conjunction with renewable equipment.

High efficiencies

A key reason for the popularity of the boiler is the high efficiencies it offers. There has been much coverage of the Energy-related Products (ErP) Directive that comes into force in 2015. The new EU eco-design and energy-labelling regulations raise energy-efficiency standards for boilers and water heaters, with the aim to replace less efficient products with higher efficiency, new generation heating technology. However, with heating manufacturers already quoting high efficiency figures of around 98 per cent for their gas condensing boilers, there are already gas condensing boilers on the market that meet the new standards. These high efficiencies mean lower energy use which in turn means lower fuel bills.

Rapid payback

When it comes to decisions, money will often be a major deciding factor. Not only are modern condensing gas boilers efficient but they are cost-effective and therefore offer speedy returns on investment. It is widely agreed that replacing an old existing boiler with a new model will bring the greatest reduction in fuel bills and emissions with the fastest payback. This is because a 5 to 10 year-old boiler operates at around 70 per cent efficiency whilst one that is over 15 years old drops down to just 50 per cent. So replacing an inefficient boiler with a fully modulating gas condensing boiler brings real and rapid results.

Improved design

Today’s boilers not only offer improved efficiencies but improved design. The new, smaller and lighter models are easier to install and maintain. In commercial buildings where access to the plant room is awkward, look for models that are supplied on wheels or able to be disassembled into sections. This will make installation easier, reduce time and labour costs, and, importantly, minimise any disruption for the client.

Prefabricated systems

Prefabricated heating systems are gaining in popularity as a solution to reducing installation time and costs as well as improving quality control. Condensing boilers on skid systems, for example, are delivered on site as a whole system in a pre-configured and tested wheeled unit rather than individual components from a number of suppliers. This guarantees a high-quality solution as the skid comes from a single source of supply plus saves on time as there is no need to order compatible parts or components. With all the engineering carried out in the factory, only supervisor-level skill is required on site, allowing contractors to handle more work at reduced cost base. What’s more, the skid system can be installed and commissioned in just 3-5 days compared with 3-5 weeks, a major advantage on installations where downtime must be limited, such as schools or medical buildings.

Energy-saving ‘Bolt-On’

The flexible nature of the boiler means that it can operate alongside other technologies in a multi-technology or bivalent system. An example of this is the frequent specification of condensing boilers alongside renewable technologies to ensure reliable heat delivery.

However, we can turn this on its head and identify devices which will raise the heating efficiency of the boiler within a system. This is particularly relevant when refurbishing existing buildings which often have old heating systems in place. Renewables are usually not an option here, yet the typical existing LTHW system takes more energy to heat as it will generally have been sized on high flow and return temperatures, preventing the boiler from fully condensing. One solution, if budget allows, is to consider adding an energy-saving ‘bolt-on’ such as a super condensing passive flue gas heat recovery (PFGHR) device which will recover the otherwise wasted energy, up to 15 per cent of the energy input, and pass it back into the system for the benefit of underfloor heating, low temperature radiators or domestic hot water pre-heat.

To ensure that the various heat sources are designed to operate together effectively and efficiently in one heating system, it is beneficial to use the same manufacturer. Alternatively, look for prefabricated heating systems incorporating PFGHR to achieve the maximum energy and carbon savings.

Building blocks for a low carbon future

Heating systems today are increasingly designed to use multiple technologies for maximum results – rather like a series of building blocks that can be integrated together with a smart control to form one highly-efficient whole. The humble boiler is a key component in such a system. Effective, highly efficient, reliable and flexible, it continues to play a crucial role in helping bridge the nation’s move to an energy-efficient, low-carbon future.

This article originally appeared in PHAM News.

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