Gas is back in fashion

The hard wall of reality means that for financial, environmental and practical reasons, gas is back in fashion.

2015 is the Year of Energy Efficiency, ushering in two new regulations to encourage us to use energy more effectively and intelligently: the Energy-related Products (ErP) Directive (EU Directive 2009/125/EC) for heating and hot water products and the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) promote higher standardised efficiencies and practical, affordable measures designed to help businesses meet their environmental commitments and benefit from energy and cost savings. Improved energy efficiency combined with an increased uptake of renewable equipment technology is pivotal in moving the UK and EU towards an energy-efficient low-to-zero carbon future. But, while our long-term goal is to decarbonise heating, for financial, environmental and practical reasons, our priority right now is to avoid wasting our existing energy source. The spotlight is back on gas as a cost-effective, cleaner fuel source for heating.

The reality is that gas has always been by far the most popular source of energy for heating in the UK, accounting for around 80 per cent of domestic, commercial and industrial heating. This is due in part to the UK’s high proportion of old buildings, the majority of which have boilers at the heart of the heating system. Commercial buildings are big users of energy and as such are responsible for 18 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Furthermore, around half of the total energy use of these buildings – and its related GHG emissions – comes from heat and hot water generation. If we are to come anywhere near meeting our steep environmental targets, we must improve the heating efficiency of our existing building stock.

Low carbon renewable technology is often not an option for these older buildings due to the nature of the heating system in place. In these instances, the most effective and practical means of achieving significant energy and carbon savings is to replace ageing boilers with modern gas condensing boilers. The environmental and energy cost saving potential offered by gas condensing technology is reinforced by the ErP Directive which, by raising the thermal efficiency for boilers and heaters, will, in essence, make it mandatory to install high-efficiency condensing boilers below 400kW on both new build developments and refurbishment projects, even on existing heating and hot water systems currently using non-condensing boilers.

Affordability is a key factor leading to the renewed focus on gas and condensing technology for improved energy efficiency. Replacing an inefficient boiler with a clean-burning, gas condensing boiler is an effective and at the same time cost-effective means of achieving substantial energy and cost savings. Research shows that a system that is five to ten years old operates at 70 per cent efficiency, whilst one that is over 15 years old drops down to just 50 per cent. Upgrading to a modern, 98 per cent efficient condensing boiler can therefore quite literally transform the energy performance of our existing buildings with the ability to more than halve fuel bills. With relatively low initial investment, rapid financial payback and the potential for future savings, the financial appeal of upgrading to a modern gas condensing boiler is evident. Falling gas prices only serve to strengthen the economic argument.

The environmental benefits are equally persuasive. Replacing an old atmospheric boiler with a clean-burning modern condensing boiler, for example, is proven to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90% and halve fuel bills. Not only are carbon emissions minimal, but condensing boilers offer ultra-low NOx emissions, helping create cleaner air, reducing allergies and respiratory conditions  and improving health and well-being.

With the arrival of ‘super condensing’ boilers, the energy and carbon savings are still greater but with the same rapid financial payback. By incorporating heat recovery technology, ‘super condensing’ boilers recover otherwise wasted energy which they pass back into the system, thereby enabling even more efficient and effective use of the energy input. This ability to achieve full time maximum combustion efficiency even at high flow and return temperatures makes them the perfect solution to raising the efficiency of older buildings that take more energy to heat.

Practicality and flexibility lie at the heart of the popularity of gas and gas condensing technology. This is tried-and-tested equipment that has been adapted and refined by manufacturers over the years to meet individual building and system requirements. Installation is even easier with lighter and more compact models supplied on wheels for greater manoeuvrability, and boilers that can be disassembled where access is restricted. Manufacturers have brought added flexibility to design, notably with multiple boiler installations on cascade or rig systems that facilitate wider output modulation for optimal operating efficiency and greater energy and carbon savings; improved quality control, reduced labour costs and minimum disruption and downtime also benefit businesses in terms of greater productivity and efficiency.

In addition to retrofit and refurbishment projects, gas condensing boilers also have an essential part to play in new build developments, either as the sole provider of heat or operating alongside low carbon technologies, such as gas absorption heat pumps, biomass or CHP systems, to supply seasonal top up or meet peak demand. Crucially, this technology is not only a practical, affordable solution to cleaner, energy-efficient heating today but the bridge towards a zero carbon future.

This year’s renewed drive to raise energy efficiency levels acknowledges the importance of gas as a source for heating by enforcing more effective and sparing use of this fuel in order to achieve greater energy security, lower greenhouse gas emissions and significant energy and cost savings. For businesses struggling to increase productivity in the face of pressing environmental concerns and increased legislation and targets, gas condensing boilers are an affordable, highly efficient, reliable and flexible solution to cleaner, greener heating, a tried-and-tested technology that is helping put gas back in fashion.

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