Boilers as a key technology for reducing carbon emissions
Replacing aging boilers with modern, high-efficiency models can make a huge dent on carbon emissions — with much shorter payback periods than renewable technologies. Richard Evans explains why boilers have a much longer shelf life than some are suggesting.
A strong focus on renewable heating technologies in recent years may have left some with the impression that boilers will soon be past their sell-by date. In reality, businesses and homeowners can make massive savings in carbon and fuel bills simply by upgrading to high-efficiency or condensing boiler systems, alongside well specified controls.
20 million homes in the UK are heated by boilers, and every year a further 1.5 million new boilers are installed in Britain. In the commercial sector, there are around two million registered businesses in the UK with boiler-led heating systems, so clearly boilers are not going to disappear overnight. In all probability it will be at least 10 to 15 years before conventional boilers are no longer the most popular choice of heating for new or replacement installations. Even then, boilers will still have a significant role to play, either as a back-up to CHP or a biomass system or as the main source of heat alongside renewables such as solar thermal.
The excitement around renewables can sometimes overshadow the humble boiler and, in so doing, undervalues the importance that modern boiler technology has in helping the UK meet ambitious Government targets for reducing CO2 emissions. In reality, a widescale replacement of old boilers for new high-efficiency condensing appliances will still make a massive impact on carbon reduction. The message we need to push now is that we have a wealth of proven products, including boilers and renewables, which give us a wide range of solutions — and it is about selecting the right product for each application, in line with the customer’s needs and resources.
We visit a lot of commercial buildings where boilers are old, not properly maintained and in a state of decay. At best they may have been installed with less than 80% efficiency 15 years ago but today are probably running at less than 60% efficiency. Given the current economic climate, investors are reluctant to replace boilers until they are totally unrepairable. However, if an investor upgrades to a modern high-efficiency condensing boiler system with well specified controls they could benefit from efficiencies of up to 109%. The result would see savings all round in terms of fuel consumption and carbon reduction.
To demonstrate the huge potential savings of replacing old boilers with for new, we can draw upon a recent installation at the headquarters of engineering, procurement and construction contractor, M. W. Kellogg. Working closely with the company, we chose to replace the inefficient old boilers with a highly efficient 1.9 MW system comprising three 640 kW stainless-steel condensing models together with EMS controls.
Within four months of installation gas consumption had been reduced by over 584 MWh and CO2 by 108 t. Comparing 2008 against 2009 showed savings of 43% for the month of October and 46% for November. As a result, with a similar weather and gas usage profile for 2010 we are expecting the system hardware CAPEX return on investment to be within 19 months, which is very impressive.
Clearly the potential savings in carbon and fuel usage to be had from installing a new boiler are a huge plus, but the benefits do not stop there. The efficiency levels and performance of condensing commercial boilers can be fully optimised by pairing them with correctly specified controls, which means the investor will see the system operating to its maximum performance.
For example, using the most suitable options for a condensing boiler system from our range of sophisticated controls can increase the efficiency by a further 10 to 12%.
One of the best things to happen to boilers in recent years was the domestic boiler scrappage scheme, which has now ended. Not only did the £50 million investment mean that 125 000 homes are now benefiting from significantly reduced carbon emissions and fuel usage but the message that boilers can still do a very important job has hit home.
A commercial boiler scrappage scheme would be another excellent step forward and will go some way towards helping the Government edge closer to its carbon-reduction targets. The entire heating industry threw its support behind the scrappage scheme, and the effort was rewarded. It would be a real shame if the momentum stopped there. The carbon savings that we can generate from incentivising investors to replace inefficient old boilers in commercial buildings would be enormous.
We understand that making the commitment to upgrade your heating equipment is actually difficult for an investor. But if we tackled installations where plant is more than 10 years old we could make substantial carbon savings just by bringing them up to current standards — without businesses necessarily having to make the larger capital investment of installing renewable technologies.
Don’t write boilers off just yet. They will remain a very important part of the heating industry for many years to come.
Richard Evans is sales director with Buderus.