BSRIA-BEIS event debates non-domestic heating

BSRIA, space heating

The industry was recently given the opportunity to provide feedback on standards and performance on heating systems in non-domestic buildings. There was some lively discussion.

BSRIA and BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) recently organised an interactive session to discuss the standards and performance of heating systems in non-domestic buildings. Under discussion was the current use of low-carbon heating technologies and how Government, industry and business overcome the key barriers and challenges to the uptake and more wide-scale use of low-carbon technologies and measures.

The uptake of low-carbon technologies and measures is policy driven, and the feeling was that there needs to be a 35% improvement in the present baseline for non-domestic buildings (as set down in the London Plan). Standards were seen to be essential — especially high standards, but, slightly conversely, companies will go with the cheap options.

One key issue is that if there isn’t anyone ‘from above’ telling technicians what to do, they won’t. Therefore, more awareness and incentives are desirable. In this respect, would BREEAM accreditation help? And what of ESOS (the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme)? But only the more green-aware companies make this work for them. A lot of this is down to reputation.

How does one introduce better energy-management systems to reduce energy wastage and how are they controlled? Education is essential — especially with so many examples of bad energy and heating habits. These include getting people to turn off heating when it isn’t needed, air conditioning operating even in winter, pubs with radiators belting out heat in the height of summer — and all summer. Chiefly, heating is the ‘life blood’ of any building.

More investment is certainly needed — along with feed-in tariffs.

There is currently a high level of market uncertainty, with investors needing a 30 to 40-year return. And it doesn’t help when Government keeps pulling policies. What happens when there is a change of government? In essence, there is a lack of consistent polices; they need to be consistent. In addition, how are they policed?

And what of costs — especially upfront costs versus long-term?

There is a technical challenge — retrofitting. In what is a conservative market, industry want policies to be tried and tested. There is a lack of early adopters, so more experimentation is needed. One question is whether the Government is risk averse? The lack of commercial competition is limiting innovations to make cost savings, but how do we address this? And what of early adoption? More R&D is needed to follow the European model. How much funding is available for alternative technologies?

Indeed it was said that the training and thought process is better in the EU.

There is too much energy waste in existing commercial buildings. Installing heat networks in London in particular is faced with remains from the Second World War — which makes digging difficult. There are also too many Victorian water mains and listed buildings. And in this respect, energy suppliers get charged for downtime.

Changes in facilities-management staff can prove difficult. Added to which, the reality of life is that people are not working just from 8 am to 5 pm.

Lack of real evidence is also a barrier.

More-efficient heating systems incur higher maintenance costs, which is both a solution and a problem. Reducing maintenance costs is essential, and a specific example to reduce these costs is magnetic filters to capture the black sludge that would otherwise build up in radiators and compromise energy efficiency. The good news is that in a commercial building energy savings of up to 6% can be achieved.

BSRIA, space heating
Achieving efficiency in non-domestic heating systems.

Water treatment is also important to prevent the build-up of lime scale.

The regulatory landscape could be ironed out; people only will deal with a problem when they have to, so regulation is vital. If one is prepared for the ‘regulatory trajectory’ and knows when a new standard is coming out, then one can gear up for it. A phased legislative implementation helps; one can’t do it all or solve anything all at once. Finally, ‘knee-jerk’ policies don’t help.

Business has got to be careful. Who imposes which rule? Would underfloor heating, which emits heat largely through low-temperature radiation, be better than systems that are largely convective? Underfloor heating is is cheaper to run and more effective. And smart meters provide quick wins.

Other quick wins include education, corporate social responsibility and best practice.

A ‘eureka moment’ is certainly needed, along with an organic and holistic change and approach. Would a ‘carrot and stick’ approach help? Last, but not least, what about the omni-present soft landings?

What are the key drivers to improve energy performance in non-domestic buildings and to achieve nearly zero carbon buildings?

There is a poor level of maintenance of heating systems. Standards are driving improvements, and they are also flexible enough to fit bespoke designs. And what of audits?

Training is crucial — both forward looking and retrospective.

Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) came under discussion. FITs have a finite budget so they have to be scrutinised. Is the tariff too high? Would a feedback loop help for good behaviour? People lose confidence in the policy.

A recommendation should be set for minimum standards, with system monitoring to provide data on energy use. Long-term policies are preferred to something that is short-termist. Better product standards would help.

A final salvo — not having UK wide standards doesn’t help.

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