What the ErP doesn’t measure

As temperatures dipped below the zero mark this winter, our gas-fired boilers worked overtime to keep the nation warm at home and at work, supplying heating for some 80 per cent of the UK’s domestic, commercial and industrial buildings.

With gas continuing to play a key role in bridging the move to a zero-carbon future, it is crucial that we use it efficiently. At present, heat and hot water generation account for the largest single use of energy in non-domestic buildings, responsible for nearly half the total energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions. So, it is hardly surprising that boilers and water heaters are the next energy-related products to be included in the Energy-related Products Directive (ErP) (EU Directive 2009/125/EC) comprising Eco-design and Energy-labelling regulations.

We’re all familiar by now with the ErP which has affected the manufacture and labelling of many of our white goods from washing machines to fridges and freezers. As of 26 September 2015, heating manufacturers will have to comply with rigorous environmental demands regarding product design, energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction. All boilers between 70kW and 400kW will need to meet a minimum standard of efficiency of 94% at 30% load or 86% at 100% to comply with the Eco-design Directive.

The EU anticipates that the higher efficiency requirements will help reduce energy use in new buildings by around 20 per cent. As the cheapest and cleanest energy choice of all is not to waste it, businesses and organisations will benefit from significant environmental savings and energy cost reductions. Refurbishment projects will also benefit from reduced bills as the new ruling will apply both to new build development and refurbishment projects. Boilers compliant with the regulation will also be rated from A+++ to G as part of the Energy-labelling Directive which is designed to assist end users in making an informed choice as to the efficiency of the product.

So what does all this mean to the industry? In essence, the higher heating efficiencies required by the ErP Directive will make it mandatory to install high-efficiency condensing boilers below 400kW on both new build developments and existing heating and hot water systems currently using non-condensing boilers.

This effective elimination of atmospheric boilers under 400kW will have a huge impact on both manufacturers and end-users and may well result in new models of condensing boilers appearing in the marketplace to meet the launch of the new Directive. Meeting the Eco-design minimum standard of efficiency in laboratory conditions is one thing. The question is, how will energy labelling differentiate between a tried-and-tested condensing boiler and a condensing boiler that has not had the same benefit of years of testing?

In other words, does a standardised minimum efficiency level really equate to a standardised quality of product?

Other criteria may ultimately affect the energy efficiency of a product and the energy and carbon savings it can bring. Reliability is an important factor that has obvious implications on the performance of a condensing boiler and the overall efficiency of the heating system. Fourth, fifth of sixth generation condensing boilers will frequently offer greater reliability than a new model as they have been adapted and refined over time.

This fine-tuning from one generation of boiler to the next results in a second area of improvement: greater flexibility of design. With the benefit of decades of research and development, established boiler models will have been adapted to better support system design, with additional or bespoke features that enable them to match more closely the individual requirements of a particular building and heating system. All of this benefits the end-user in terms of greater savings due to the higher system efficiency achieved.

Finally there’s the experience factor. Providing as much information as possible within the ErP product ‘fiche’ will undoubtedly assist specifiers and contractors, much in the same way as the BIM files currently offered by many manufacturers. However, how do we quantify the volume of experience behind one boiler model compared with that of another? Experience is key to achieving higher system efficiencies through smarter design.

The introduction of the ErP this September is to be welcomed as the minimum efficiency standards it imposes will promote improved energy efficiency. However, the building services industry should be aware that the new regulations will not necessarily result in an entirely holistic overview of the product or a means of comparing like with like. Nor will the ErP offer a guarantee that these products will achieve the required, standard efficiencies in real life operation.

In real life scenarios, the effective operation of a condensing boiler owes much to its quality and design, both of which invariably depend on the extent of research and development that has been invested in its production. CE-compliant boilers are without doubt a step towards improved energy efficiency, but as manufacturers we know that these boilers also need to be reliable, flexible and easy to control if the industry is to achieve the ultimate challenge of improving the energy performance of our buildings and meeting our steep environmental targets by raising our energy efficiency.

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