Subsidy necessity – or is it energy efficiency that counts

The government’s announcements of changes in green policy needn’t hold us back from our essential goal of raising the energy efficiency of our buildings, says Remeha’s James Porter

It is widely acknowledged that the greatest challenge facing the building services industry is the need to improve the energy efficiency of our built environment. This means constructing buildings that require less energy to run and raising the building performance of our existing building stock. When it comes to heating, there is an urgent need to address the efficiency of our existing buildings: while new buildings are designed to require less heat, heating accounts for around half the total energy consumption of our older buildings and its associated emissions.  Furthermore, according to the Carbon Trust at least 60% of the buildings that will be in use in 2050 are already built. So if we are to come anywhere near our legally binding target of an emissions reduction of 80% by 2050, it is critical we act now to refurbish our buildings and make them more energy efficient.

Inefficient heating often results in higher than necessary operating costs, so raising thermal efficiency will have the additional benefit of delivering organisations substantial savings. With 80% of the UK’s existing buildings still heated by boilers, the simplest, most affordable solution for immediate, significant energy and savings is usually to replace any inefficient boilers with high efficiency, fully modulating boilers. Yet, increasingly, as we engineer to maximise buildings’ saving potential wherever possible, there is a growing requirement to add compatible ‘bolt-on’ renewable technology in order to achieve the optimum efficiencies, greatest savings and lowest carbon footprint.

Increasing the uptake of renewable energy equipment is also key to realising the EU 2020 directive to generate 15% of our energy from renewable sources. However, renewable technologies have caused a lot of hot air in more ways than one in recent months. Firstly, there have been widespread reports of renewable technology components in heating systems underperforming or failing to operate. More recently, the announcement by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd of revisions to subsidies originally introduced to support greater adoption of renewables has raised concerns over the government’s level of commitment to green policy.

On the first issue, there is evidently a need for greater knowledge and understanding of renewable technology within the building services industry to support smarter system design. One solution might be to encourage greater collaboration and shared learning within the sector by promoting successful, best practice projects rather than focusing on negative scenarios. This route would also assist the second matter of financial sustainability, as the faster return on investment from more effective systems would reduce dependency on subsidies for renewable success.

It is also worth identifying the renewable technologies that already succeed without funding. Take, for example, Take, for example, Gas Absorption Heat Pumps (GAHPs), currently not included in the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (although eligibility is expected later this year). Regardless, GAHPs are steadily growing in popularity as their high performance makes them the renewable equipment of choice for heating and hot water on both new build and existing buildings. This is a tried-and-test technology with a proven ability to improve a building’s environmental credentials and deliver lower operating costs at rapid financial payback. In a well-controlled and integrated system, these heat pumps can effectively reduce running costs by around a third and, with no more maintenance required than a boiler and a life cycle of up to 18 years, the sustainable benefits they offer to a building are long term.

A case in point is a recent heating refurbishment project carried out by Remeha as a turnkey project at Lake House, an Oxfordshire care home run by The Orders of St John Care Trust.  When the time came to replace the existing three condensing boilers, we recommended a hybrid system, combining three GAHPs, a twin coil buffer and two condensing boilers through a BMS control to meet the two main considerations at the home – namely the high demand for heating and hot water and reliability, due to the vulnerable nature of many of the residents. The project included a two-year monitoring period for the purpose of energy data collection for accurate performance tables. The data exceeded expectations, revealing that the GAHPs are achieving outstanding average seasonal efficiencies of 140%. This translated into a 27% reduction on gas consumption when comparing figures from December 2013 and December 2014. The Trust can therefore expect a full return on investment in just five years with future energy savings to be gained thereafter.

So even without subsidies, heating technology such as GAHPs illustrate how we as an industry have at our disposal the necessary affordable equipment and the essential knowledge to raise the thermal efficiency of our buildings. The government is calling for industry bodies to support them in devising and implementing new policies that will help resolve our energy trilemma. As manufacturers, we at Remeha will continue to innovate with ever more efficient and low-carbon technology, sharing our knowledge of our products and supplying accurate data on their achievable efficiencies to facilitate best performance through smart system design. The government has thrown down the gauntlet: we in the industry each have a role to play to support the move to a more efficient, sustainable future. There is no better time to start than now.

This article originally appeared in HVR magazine.

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