Positive responses to rising fuel prices

A new boiler in a system with good controls can reduce space-heating bills by up to 40%.

Prompted by the sharp rises in fuel prices, which look set to rise even further, Gillian Allder reviews ways to reduce energy consumption — and hence cost.

It is claimed that energy bills are likely to double within five years as the Government drives a shift towards green power and building nuclear power stations. Outline plans for this major shift in power generation, away from fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil, are predicted to cost the nation £200 billion, which will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher fuel bills.

It is, however, not only green measures that are pushing fuel prices up. Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, suggests the driving force for the British Gas price rises was the unrest in the Middle East, which has put up the cost of oil and, in turn, wholesale gas prices. He says, ‘If we want to get out from under the volatility of these world markets, the best way is to save energy, make our bills much less sensitive to world market prices, and, in the long term, get onto clean, secure, green energy sources which do not bounce around with world oil and gas prices.’

To get oil and gas prices down, small to medium-sized businesses are now definitely making a move towards low-carbon energy sources combined with conventional heating measures.

The Grant Aided Heating Installers Network (GAIN) points out that it is not always recognised that saving energy starts with central-heating equipment, which needs to work to maximum energy efficiency to avoid fuel wastage and unnecessarily high fuel bills. Indeed, it is essential that before installing any renewable measures the most efficient state-of-the-art professionally installed heating controls are in place.

According to the Government, if a boiler is more than 10 to 12 years old, it is time for a more modern replacement to be installed. Technology is moving so fast that the new generation of boilers bears little resemblance to those made 10-plus years ago — in terms of the design, mechanics and energy-saving ability.

A new boiler with controls could reduce space heating bills by up to 40%. Adding solar and photo-voltaic panels could result in up to a further 30% of the energy bill and reduction in carbon footprint. Whilst insulation, which normally lasts for the lifetime of the building, plays a vital role in achieving maximum energy efficiency, the Government recognises that the carbon saving this measure achieves is only as effective as the carbon-saving efficiency of the boiler.

Solar thermal panels can make a substantial contribution to reducing energy bills by meeting a large proportion of the annual demand for hot water.

There is a wide range of new technologies and renewable-energy sources which offers substantial savings for small to medium businesses. For example, combined heat and power (CHP), which delivers great-value energy, is becoming more in demand and should be considered, especially when refurbishment work is being implemented. CHP is the process of capturing and then utilising the heat produced by generating electricity. Conventional electricity generation by power stations is only around 37% efficient, which means a huge potential source of energy is simply released into the atmosphere as a byproduct. CHP can harness this power. It is widely recognised as a key measure in helping to reduce harmful CO2 emissions.

CHP can result in overall energy savings of up to 40% by recovering most of the otherwise wasted heat. When combined with other energy-efficiency measures this represents a substantial saving.

Businesses installing CHP can benefit from the Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme — a key part of the Government’s programme to manage climate change, which is designed to encourage businesses to invest in energy-saving equipment. It is open to all businesses that pay UK corporation or income tax, regardless of size, sector or location. The scheme provides a tax incentive to businesses which invest in equipment that meets published energy-saving criteria. It provides 100% first-year capital allowances on investments in energy-saving equipment against taxable profits of the period of investment.

Under the Government’s Green Deal Scheme, owners and landlords of commercial buildings may receive loans of up to £10 000 per property to purchase packages of energy-efficient products and services, including heating, controls, insulation and renewables.

In addition to ground- and air-source heat pumps, biomass is now regarded as a mainstream renewable system. Biomass fuels, used to power systems that convert the energy into heat for water and space-heating schemes, are often eligible for financial support from funding programmes.

An air-source heat-pump system has recently been installed by Darfield Heating Services, at its main offices in Darlington. The offices had a 12 kW electric boiler, a very costly way to supply heating and hot water. The company decided that an air-source heat pump would reduce its carbon footprint. A potential 400% efficiency was available, creating a possible 8 kW from every 2 kW used, with the result that all office heating and hot water is more than covered. The compact heat pump was fitted at first-floor level to reduce interference with vehicles entering the car park. The existing system was also upgraded in an unvented hot-water storage tank, as the hot-water supply and original electric boiler were left installed as back-up.

A cost-reducing replacement for a 12 kW electric boiler supplying heating and hot water for the main office of Darfield Heating Services is an air-source heat pump with a COP of four.

As a future project the company is also considering fitting photo-voltaic cells to work alongside the heat pump to make the system totally self sufficient. Darfield is a member of the Grant Aided Heating Installers Network (GAIN).

Members of GAIN are in a strong position to meet the future exciting challenges of the renewable sector. They have professional experience of the latest, ultra-sophisticated heating technology, combining this with in-depth knowledge of renewable energy sources.

The 2011 GAIN conference, which will further develop the theme of renewables, will be held on Thursday, 10 November 2011 at Manchester United Football Club. It is being targeted towards RSLs (registered social landlords), builders and other specifiers. Further information is now available on the GAIN website.

Gillian Allder is director of the Grant Aided Heating Installers’ Network.

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