The ‘win-win’ approach to energy savings
Chris Meir looks at the financial and environmental benefits from improved heating efficiencies to individual organisations and UK plc
Energy and the environment are firmly back in the headlines with fears over EU energy security following recent events in Russia and concerns raised by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) over the surge of concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Improving our energy efficiency is the fastest and simplest means of improving our energy security and reducing our harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the potential of energy efficiency to support economic and social growth, advance environmental sustainability and ensure energy system security, is consistently undervalued.
Commercial buildings are responsible for 18 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions. The benefits of improved energy efficiency from within this sector are emphasised by the Carbon Trust which reports that non-domestic buildings are capable of delivering a 35 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, yielding a net benefit to the UK of at least 4bn. Individual organisations will also benefit in financial as well as environmental terms from improving the energy performance of their buildings. The lower carbon emissions will help businesses meet their ‘green’ commitments, while the fall in operative costs will further contribute to greater profitability. What’s more, energy efficiency measures are cost-effective, offering rapid financial payback, which makes them both financially and environmentally sustainable. This is an important incentive as, according to a recent survey, cost management is the key driver for firms adopting environmentally and socially sustainable business practices, scoring higher than customer demand and a sense of ethical responsibility.
So, how to go about improving the energy performance of our buildings? New build developments are designed to use less energy. The problem lies with the UK’s high proportion of inefficient old buildings. Raising the efficiency of these properties is therefore the real challenge if the UK is to achieve our steep environmental targets. The BRE offers the surprising statistic that 60 per cent of the buildings that will stand in 2050 – the same year by which we are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent – are already built.
Within a building, the largest user of energy is heating and hot water production which accounts for as much as 60 per cent of a building’s total energy use and around 40 per cent of its carbon emissions, according to the Carbon Trust. This makes it the perfect starting point for building operators wishing to make rapid and substantial efficiency savings.
A significant proportion of the heating in commercial buildings is provided by commercial boiler plant, so replacing any inefficient boilers with a modern, high-efficiency gas condensing boiler often tops the list of cost-effective, carbon-cutting measures. Replace a 15 to 20 year old atmospheric boiler with a high efficiency boiler and you can cut emissions by as much as 90 per cent and more than halve energy use and fuel bills.
However, why stop there when we should be engineering to maximise savings wherever possible? Including an allocation in the budget for complementary ‘bolt-ons’ such as low-carbon gas absorption heat pumps (GAHPs) or biomass boilers, or energy-saving passive flue gas heat recovery devices will raise efficiencies still higher and reduce emissions still further. These ‘bolt-ons’ can also benefit buildings where the heating is delivered by gas condensing boilers up to five years old, say, that are still serviceable. The ‘bolt-on’ option is an attractive ‘green’ solution to achieving greater carbon reductions and lower energy consumption at a reduced capital cost.
Combining multiple technologies in one heating system does, however, require in-depth knowledge of the products if they are to deliver the best results. Whether a boiler or a GAHP, no two products are identical, so it is beneficial to use the same manufacturer to ensure that the various heat sources are designed to operate together effectively and efficiently in one heating system. In turn, manufacturers should support the design team with in-depth knowledge of their products to help achieve the optimum results.
Look for manufacturers who provide BIM files on all their products to assist the design team in producing the smartest system. The 3D format is more easily visualised, helping the team work more efficiently for good integration at the design phase. The digital information contained in the file also facilitates greater accuracy and savings not only in the design process but throughout the life cycle of the product or system.
Smart controls play a crucial role in the new multi-technology systems. Controls are central to effective performance, ensuring that individual technologies operate at their optimum efficiency, whilst sophisticated building management control systems will integrate the components so that they work together rather than in competition with each other. This will avoid any potential performance gap between predicted and actual energy use on both new build and retrofit projects. On old systems, the BMS control system should integrate the new equipment into the existing system to maximise carbon and energy savings.
The savings are there to be made. The real question is, why unnecessarily waste energy when the technology and knowledge is here now to support higher heating efficiency in commercial buildings. Smarter, super energy-efficient heating systems will allow businesses to achieve greater profitability and productivity, whilst supporting decarbonisation for the benefit of future generations. Viewed from all angles, financially, commercially, environmentally and ethically, improved heating efficiency is a ‘win-win’ solution that makes perfect sense.
This article was originally published in EiBI magazine. For more information on Remeha products, call us on 0118 978 3434
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