Legislation-driven energy efficiency

Mitsubishi Electric, air conditioning, R22, F Gas
Towards greater efficiency and less environmental impact — Martin Fahey.

We all need to take into account a plethora of legislation, regulations and guidelines covering the built environment. So what does this mean to anyone trying to heat, cool or ventilate our buildings? Martin Fahey, of Mitsubishi Electric provides an overview.

Our buildings account for almost half of all UK greenhouse emissions, which is more than either industry or transport. Reducing the impact of a building’s services can therefore have a significant and immediate impact on energy use. Current regulations focus on three distinct areas of the lifecycle of a piece of equipment: pre-sales and specification; during operation; end of life.

The main legislative drivers affecting the design and specification of equipment are Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations. The intention is to ensure that the right choices are made at the beginning to achieve the most efficient system, using the least energy.

Looking at the energy use and efficiency of air conditioning, heat-recovery systems and ventilation equipment, these set targets for an average reduction in emissions levels that have to be achieved before a project can be given planning approval.

However, these are often the minimum required, and BREEAM and local planning requirements, such as the London Plan lead the drive for even less energy use in our buildings — with the ultimate aim of achieving ‘zero carbon’.

The key thing in the design and specification stage is understanding the requirements of a building — whether a new-build or a retrofit — and matching this with the most appropriate technology, or combination of technologies, to achieve the best levels of controllable internal comfort, with the highest energy efficiency possible.

This objective requires greater co-operation between consultants, designers, engineers, installers and manufacturers — which can also be seen as one of the aims of the new BIM (building information modelling) regulations.

These regulations require everyone involved (from the drawing board to the recycling centre) to adopt a more collaborative approach to the working life of a building and all its services, so that there is a full, audited trail of energy use from start to finish.

Building Energy Ratings and the EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) focus on how to maximise equipment efficiency during its operating life.

For air conditioning, F-Gas (fluorinated greenhouse gas) regulations govern the control and use of refrigerant gases, such as R410A and R407C.

F-Gas covers important areas such as leak detection checks, recovery of refrigerant, the keeping of records and training. The certification body REFCOM has an excellent website for this. See second link below.

There is also EU and UK ozone regulation to prevent the leaks of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as the HCFC (hydro-chloro-fluoro-carbon) R22, which relate to the end of equipment life.

What this means in practice is that anyone installing, maintaining or removing air conditioning systems involving F-Gases, must be registered with REFCOM.

At the same time, building operators are now required to demonstrate that they have had regular inspections of their air-conditioning systems — to help meet the requirements for the EPBD. All systems with an effective rated cooling output of more than 12 kW must be regularly inspected by an energy assessor, with inspections no more than five years apart.

An inspection examines the refrigeration, air-moving equipment and controls, looking at documentation to understand the system and show maintenance regimes.

The assessment also estimates whether the system is suitably sized and provides advice on ways in which performance efficiency might be improved.

The inspections tie in closely with F-Gas regulations and place statutory obligations on the person who controls the operation of the system.

It is often easy to overlook the environmental impact of the disposal of old equipment, but there are two obvious areas where this can make a difference.

Firstly, modern equipment can significantly enhance the efficiency of a building and lower emissions. It is therefore in the interests of both the industry and the building operator to remove aging systems and replace them with more efficient and controllable equipment.

Secondly, properly audited disposal and recycling ensures the collection and reuse of the majority of materials in old equipment and ensures the safe capture and disposal of ODS and other pollutants.

There are around 750 000 R22 systems estimated to be still operating in the UK. With R22 being banned altogether at the end of 2014, anyone operating or maintaining old air conditioning needs to start planning for its replacement.

This can often be easier than many realise, with Replace technology that can minimise disruption and install costs by reusing the existing pipework and wiring. Capital costs of new equipment can be offset against annual corporation tax bills if the new equipment qualifies for Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme.

It is difficult to do more than just scratch the surface here, and anyone wanting further information is welcome to download a free CPD guide from our website. These guides cover many of the issues mentioned here in more detail. Visit the ‘Tools and resources’ section of the link below to download a free copy, under the ‘Industry information guides’ tab.

Martin Fahey is sustainable solutions manager with Mitsubishi Electric.

Related links:
Related articles:

modbs tv logo

CABE: Skills shortage

David Taylor, president of CABE talks about how to deal with the major skills shortage and the need to attract young people to rebuild the industry. 

Future Office: Designing workspaces for people

Nicola Gillen, director and architect at Aecom talks about her new book 'Future Office' and why we need to focus on building workplaces for people.