Why reducing carbon emissions needs the support of research

Andrew Eastwell
Research as a catalyst to the successful application of new technologies to reduce carbon emissions — Andrew Eastwell.
ANDREW EASTWELL firmly believes that applying new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings needs the support of research to eliminate associated risks early on.Andrew Eastwell, chief executive of BSRIA is a fan of the latest Part L Building Regulations and alternative- and renewable-energy technologies. The common link is reducing carbon emissions to tackle the threat of climate change. The 2006 amendments to Part L of the Building Regulations are aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, and alternative- and renewable-energy technologies can reduce carbon emissions or even eliminate them. Freedom The new Building Regulations give engineers considerable freedom in how they design buildings to achieve the target carbon-dioxide emissions ‘We have not yet really come to understand the significance of the way the new revision requires a holistic solution to energy performance but its rejection of the elemental approach provides the way to move from bolt-on accessories to fully integrated design,’ he says. Engineers have been empowered to apply their skills, rather than simply design buildings so that each element performs to closely defined requirements. That should enable engineers to exploit the best available technologies to minimise the carbon-dioxide emissions associated with buildings. The difficulty, as Andrew Eastwell explains, is that too little is known about the effectiveness of the raft of measures available for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. The situation, as he sees it, is that as concerns about carbon-dioxide emissions and climate change have grown over the last two decades, the way research is funded has changed so the nation has lost the infrastructure to produce independent, evidence-based data to evaluate the performance of new technologies. One consequence is that the learning from early adopters of new technology is poorly captured, making the generation of robust industry application guides impossible. Understandably manufacturers need to be quick to market with equipment utilising new technology because intellectual property rights are virtually impossible to protect. ‘Engineers looking to exploit such new ideas,’ explains Andrew Eastwell, ‘face considerable risks.’ Sharing risk He reminds us that in the mid-1980s, they were helped cope with those risks by the Energy Conservation Demonstration Projects Scheme (ECDPS) run by the Department of Energy. The scheme provided a grant of 25% of the capital cost to offset the risk that the new technology might not perform as expected. To enable experience to be passed on quickly, the ECDPS also totally covered the cost of independent monitoring and required the results to be published — warts and all. There was an unexpected beneficial spin off from the ECDPS. Andrew Eastwell recalls, ‘The ECDPS programme fortuitously created a new community of people who had monitored schemes, which then fed into consultancies.’ With the ever-more urgent emphasis on identifying and implementing new technologies, Andrew Eastwell sees a return to the ECDP concept as vital. His concern is that there is a risk of technologies coming to market which will not be properly assessed — perhaps setting back their widespread application by 10 years. ‘Monitoring will speed up the process of defraying the risk,’ he says. ‘Over the last two decades, we have improved the funding for invention but lost the process of demonstration and deployment— slowing down the application. ‘Design decisions must be based on evidence. As the pool of robust data has diminished, we are making decisions based on hunch and hope rather than verifiable data.’ Small-scale CHP Small-scale CHP is a promising technology, and BSRIA has accumulated 18 months’ practical working experience of the DACHS CHP unit from Baxi Technologies. This unit has an electrical output of 5.5 kW and 15.2 kW of heat. The heat is used by the space-heating system in winter but is dumped in summer since DHW load is negligible and the main purpose of the project is to assess the reliability of such small-scale CHP. The electricity is fully used on-site with no export to grid. The gas-fired unit at BSRIA runs for 24 h a day and requires servicing every 3500 h, a task that takes one-and-a-half to two hours. The only problem experienced with the unit since it was installed two years ago has been with a lubrication jet for the engine, increasing oil consumption, but not jeopardising operation. The heating existing system is over 40 years old, and fears of expensive remedial work following an aggressive chemical clean led to the use of a small plate heat exchanger to provide an interface. Looking ahead, BSRIA is to monitor the use of CHP plant fired by wood chips and generating electricity using a steam turbine as part of the £600 million regeneration of Bracknell town centre. Heat will be delivered to a new civic centre and, perhaps, to a local school. Bracknell Forest Borough Council has won a €12.5 million Euro grant under the European Union Concerto Programme, and BSRIA will be responsible for installing instrumentation and monitoring the CHP plant. Catalyst Not only is research a catalyst to the successful application of new technologies to reduce carbon emissions, it is also a driver of economic development — believes Andrew Eastwell. He cites as an example the application of fuel cells. ‘Manufacturing fuel cells is only a small part of the economic equation,’ he says, ‘The smart thing is knowing how to design installations and run them — which could be stimulated by fiscal instruments such as a good price for surplus electricity.’ His vision is that the creation of a home market for fuel-cell technology – or indeed any low carbon solution — will stimulate the development of a pool of expertise — which can then be sold to other countries. ‘Its not just about using clever widgets to reduce CO2,’ says Andrew Eastwell. ‘These solutions should really only come after reducing loads to a minimum by careful attention to passive detail such as shading, ambient control and airtightness.’ BSRIA has also worked with supermarket chain Tesco for over 10 years to achieve high standards of airtightness for its supermarkets. What it boils down to is that while he is in favour of applying technology to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from buildings, Andrew Eastwell wants to see the associated risk eliminated very early on. Andrew Eastwell is chief executive of BSRIA.
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