Sustainability moves from niche to norm

Rapidly, and seemingly inexorably, rising fuel costs gave added meaning to the recent CIBSE Conference on ‘Sustainability — niche to norm’ in Gateshead because, quite simply, reducing fuel bill reduces carbon emissions. Many readers will share the experience of John Wright, corporate energy and environment manger with John Lewis Plc, who reported a doubling of energy costs in the last three years. They come straight off the bottom line and are now a major overhead. Keeping pace with targets for reducing carbon emissions will hardly keep up with such steep rises in electricity bills. On the other hand the payback of energy efficiency investments such as heat pumps, is vastly improved — and reducing carbon emissions comes almost as a by-product. Whether the driving force is the economic necessity of reducing energy costs or the altruistic motive of reducing carbon emissions, the outcomes are essentially the same — lower energy consumption and slower carbon emissions.

Design efficiency must transcend into the construction and operation stages of buildings — ASHRAE president Kent Peterson.

The current situation is very different from that of the 1980s, as described by Mike Malina of Energy Solutions Associations. He described the post-privatisation of the electricity industry as a disaster for energy efficiency, which saw competitive pricing policies leading to a halving of bills. ‘In contrast,’ he said, ‘this is a fantastic time to be in the energy industry, and some fantastic changes are taking place.’ While Mike Malina sees renewable energy as the key to the future, he warns, ‘We must get the basics right and not over-specify and install the wrong type of renewable system.’ At the same time, he expressed frustration at ‘yet another feasibility study on the Severn Barrage’, the first of which was back in 1925. He told delegates that this project could generate 6 to 7 GW of electricity all the time, representing nearly 10% of the UK’s current generating capacity. ‘Let’s get on with the ****** thing,’ he pleaded. Opening the conference, CIBSE’s president John Armstrong reminded delegates that sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of those in the future to meet their own needs. ‘We must put in place the foundations so that future generations can do the same.’ John Armstrong also explained the conference theme ‘niche to norm’. ‘We are moving away from sustainability being a specialist activity to it becoming mainstream. We have popular concern about the environment, and relevant legislation is in place in the UK, the EU and the USA.‘Clients need to be seen as full participants in delivering sustainability. As professionals, we need to take a leading role — something we have not been used to doing in the past.’ John Armstrong also recalled the CIBSE/ASHRAE conference in Edinburgh five years ago when the then CIBSE president Terry Wyatt highlighted the role of building-services engineers in managing the diminishing resources of the planned. ‘We must be seen to be addressing the sustainability in a positive way,’ stressed John Armstrong. United States Sustainability is also a hot topic in the USA, as ASHRAE president Kent Peterson made clear. In response to a widespread perception that the US as a country cares little about energy efficiency and sustainability, he explained that in the USA legislation mostly occurs at local level and then at state level. California is probably the leading state in the USA with an 80% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions targeted for 2050 compared with 1990.

Moving away from sustainability being a specialist activity to it becoming mainstream — CIBSE president John Armstrong.

‘Nearly half of Americans will soon be living in areas where local legislation is in place to reduce energy use,’ said Kent Peterson. ASHRAE standards provide the technical support for such policies, and the third edition of the standard for the design of high-performance green commercial buildings should be published late this year. ‘We continue to update our standards, which are widely used throughout the world,’ said Mr Peterson. The advanced energy design guides, for example, are working towards a net zero-energy building by 2012 or so, passing through 30% and 50% reduction on the way compared with the 1999 ASHRAE Standard 90.1. Looking beyond the design and construction of buildings, Kent Peterson stressed, ‘We must continue to improve the energy performance of buildings. Design efficiency must transcend into the building and operation stages. ‘CIBSE and ASHRAE need to work together to provide leadership. I know we are ready for this challenge, and we will make a difference. Think about the difference we will make if we work together.’ 8 MT a year CO2 reduction Never one to be upstaged at such a conference, Terry Wyatt, a consultant with Hoare Lea, explained a ‘guaranteed’ way to reduce the UK’s carbon-dioxide emissions by at least 8 Mt a year — a figure he compared with the ‘great plan’ for London to achieve 135 000 t a year. Even extrapolating that figure for London to the entire UK barely reaches 800 000 a year — only 10% of what Terry Wyatt promised. His savings stem from the inefficiency of supply electricity in the UK by requiring over 100% extra generation and distribution facilities for seasonal load difference and also having to maintain over 50% capacity waiting on standby to meet daily load patterns. ‘Then, worst of all,’ he explained, ‘some 3000 MW of plant is permanently running as spinning reserve to meet the instantaneous peaking of supply demands. ‘Together, these give rise to at least eight million tonnes of extra CO2 emissions a year.’ A simple way of detecting if the electricity supply is overloaded is to monitor the frequency of supply, which falls slightly if the supply is becoming overloaded. Such devices apparently cost in the region of £4 and can be used to switch off, for example, refrigerators, freezers and other loads that will readily tolerate their supply being interrupted.’

The apparent enthusiasm for the use of renewable energy in the UK is not matched by sales, which are far behind those in both France and Germany, as Andrew Giles of BSRIA explained.

Such a simple measure is adequate to eliminate the need for spinning load in the UK. Terry Wyatt explained that ‘dynamic demand management’ (DDM) has been available since 1993, courtesy of EA Technology’s CELECT system. ‘That system was discarded by the incoming supply companies, which have since also abandoned white-meter low night tariffs and most benefits previously available from maximum-demand agreements.’ Terry Wyatt described how dynamic response programmes have been adopted by the New York Independent System Operator to reduce demand on its 31 GW of supply capacity — which is comparable to that of the UK. Before the implementation of dynamic response, demand on a particular August day ranged from 16 GW to 29 GW — almost the total available. Activating dynamic response at a peak of demand immediately shed about 23 GW (see graph). With continuous demand response, peak demand is now managed at 22 GW, compared with 29 GW previously — making new generation capacity unnecessary. Terry Wyatt expressed amazement that the US has moved so fast with this technology. It started in California, which declared a policy of no more power plants in 2005 and which is spreading throughout the USA. ‘The technology is already there,’ says Terry Wyatt. ‘We only need agreement on protocols. Renewable energy Further examples of technologies that are already in place but which have achieved little penetration in the UK compared with other countries were highlighted by Andrew Giles of BSRIA worldwide marketing intelligence. The huge gap in the take up of the various forms of renewable energy between the UK, Germany and France is only too evident from the chart on this page. The reason why heat recovery in the UK shows a better performance, according to Andrew Giles, is that it is ‘old technology’. ‘Knowledge levels are still very poor in the UK,’ asserts Andrew Giles, ‘but they are improving, especially in the commercial sector.’ The reason for the very low take up of renewable technologies in the UK is the ineffectiveness of the incentives available compared with other countries where they work ‘really well’. Reflecting his frustration with the huge differences between the UK and other European countries, he said, ‘We need a decent incentive programme. The UK is so far behind it is embarrassing. Frankly, I am ashamed of the incentive packages we offer.

When the electricity authority supplying New York suddenly switched on demand response, demand fell by 9 GW. Peak demand is now managed at 7 GW below the previous level — avoiding the need for new power stations.

We are too centralised and a bit of a laughing stock. Legislation is catching up with other countries, but we are way behind on incentives.’ The move towards renewable technologies brings challenges to heating manufacturers. Andrew Giles says, ‘The heating market has collapsed in Europe, but not in the UK. Heating companies in Europe are diversifying into renewable technologies such as air-to-water and ground-source heat pumps and also carbon-dioxide heat pumps. ‘Heating manufacturers are having to adjust to the downsizing of heating loads and the rise of passive homes in Germany. Water heating is increasing, but space-heating loads are falling significantly.’ In the UK, 90% of the boiler market is condensing, which is regarded by other countries as old technology. The most mature of the renewable markets in Europe is solar thermal, which is seeing 30% growth in the UK — but from a very low base. Andrew Giles believes that renewable energy is the future, but to succeed in the UK needs a proper incentives scheme and for industry and Government to work in partnership. Although John Armstrong summed up the joint CIBSE/ASRAE conference as having demonstrated that sustainability has moved from niche to norm, that acceptance is more theoretical than reality when compared with other countries in Europe and the USA. There is clearly much to learn from other countries in delivering sustainability on a large scale.
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