Time to be energy smart

With legislation bringing new focus on energy efficiency refurbishment for businesses, Remeha looks at the retrofit technologies that deliver maximum savings for minimum expenditure

In a country renowned for its poor performing building stock, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings through retrofit and refurbishment programmes is the practical, affordable solution to a range of energy issues from energy security to high fuel prices to our steep carbon emissions reduction target. For businesses, there are two clear incentives to invest in energy efficiency: financial and legislative. By investing in energy-saving technologies, businesses will waste less energy and see fuel bills and operating costs fall. At the same time, the reduced energy consumption will assist them in meeting their company environmental and legislative requirements.

The latest incentive for businesses to reduce their energy use comes with the launch of the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), a mandatory scheme which brings into force Article 8 of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive[1]. The introduction of ESOS will affect all large UK businesses that employ at least 250 people or have an annual turnover in excess of €50 million and a balance sheet in excess of €43 million. All eligible businesses should contact the Environment Agency between 1 January and 5 December 2015 for the first report compliance.

So what does ESOS entail? Qualifying organisations will be required to undertake comprehensive analysis of their energy use, measuring the total energy consumption, identifying areas of significant energy usage that account for at least 90 per cent of the total energy consumption, and identifying cost-effective opportunities to improve their energy efficiency for these areas at least once every four years in an energy audit. This approach is intended to encourage a company-wide energy-saving culture through the adoption of cost-saving retrofit technologies. In this way, ESOS marks a return to a more pragmatic approach to solving our energy problems, with the aim being to achieve maximum savings through affordable means.

Heating is the biggest energy user of all the services, so it makes sense for it to be the starting point. Of all the energy-saving technologies, retrofit technologies deliver best in terms of effectiveness, according to the Carbon Trust, delivering rapid financial and energy savings for relatively low investment. Retrofitting a high efficiency condensing boiler is widely acknowledged as the most effective means of cutting energy use. As a general rule, building operators should look to replace any boiler over 10 to 15 years old with a modern condensing boiler. Today’s high-efficiency condensing boilers already exceed the new higher efficiencies standards outlined in the Energy-related Products (ErP) Directive that comes into force in 2015, so businesses should act now rather than waiting to save. According to the Carbon Trust, retrofitting a new high efficiency boiler can produce savings of around 30 per cent with rapid payback. In our experience, this figure can be still higher with organisations halving their energy consumption through boiler replacement, depending on the efficiency of their existing boiler.

Second on the list of affordable retrofit technologies are controls. Controls are crucial to maximising energy savings as they allow a boiler to operate at its optimum efficiency level. In terms of savings, the Carbon Trust suggests that lowering the set point by one degree could bring a reduction in the annual heating bill of up to eight per cent. Further improvements can be achieved by adding zoned temperature and time control, weather compensation, and sequential control of boilers.

On old heating systems, it is worth considering retrofitting passive flue gas heat recovery (PFGHR) units to maximise overall heating efficiencies. Old systems by their nature take more energy to heat. PFGHR devices work by recovering what would otherwise be wasted energy and passing it back into the system for the benefit of space heating (underfloor heating or low temperature radiators) or cold water pre-heat. This means that they guarantee condensing efficiencies regardless of the flow and return temperatures. Consequently, energy savings can be significant, as in the case of one business that saw energy consumption drop by two-thirds after replacing their existing atmospheric boilers with boilers incorporating PFGHR technology.

ESOS aside, budget constraints often call for a realistic approach to design. So, if the budget for a two-boiler replacement project does not stretch to two PFGHR boilers, the cost-effective solution may be to specify one PFGHR boiler backed up by a high efficiency boiler, a combination which will deliver most, if not quite all, of the energy-saving benefits. Similarly, in buildings where the heating is delivered by still serviceable condensing boilers, adding a renewable ‘bolt-on’ technology such as a heat pump is an opportunity to raise heating efficiencies without having to invest in a total refurbishment of the heating system.

It is a sobering thought that around 75 per cent of our existing inefficient buildings will still be in use in 2050, the year by which we are tasked with cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent. Yet, we have the technology to improve them now through simple retrofit and refurbishment projects. Add the new legislative incentives to the energy and financial savings carrot, and investing in such energy-efficiency measures will become a commercial no-brainer. For businesses, it’s the pragmatic approach to becoming energy smart.

This article originally appeared in Energy in Buildings and Industry magazine.

[1] To find out if you qualify for ESOS and how to comply, visit www.gov.uk/energy-savings-opportunity-scheme-esos


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