Driving sustainability with HVAC systems

By Shaun Hurworth – Head of UK Channel marketing at Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation

Energy managers will be more aware than most that the way we produce and use energy is changing. We can no longer afford to be complacent or wasteful with our energy resources, and regulations continue to set a benchmark for how quickly we need to progress towards using technologies which get us as close to providing net zero carbon buildings as possible.

The UK government has been leading the way in improving sustainability. According to the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), since 1990, the public sector has reduced its emissions by 40% as a result of energy efficiency and rationalisation of the central government estate. However, to meet the UK’s 2050 target of an 80% reduction, emissions from the buildings and activities of the public sector will need to be near zero.

The drive to reduce emissions is supported in the housing sector by Phillip Hammond’s Spring Statement announcement introducing a Future Homes Standard, mandating the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025. This is in line with the latest recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on the need to reduce housing carbon emissions by at least 24% by 2030 if the UK is to meet its 2050 target.

Heating in buildings and industry creates around 32% of all UK emissions according to the CGS. Decarbonising the heating and cooling of buildings goes a long way to achieving these targets, but it is equally important to improve energy efficiency and energy management at the same time. Currently, the annual energy bill across all public sector buildings in England and Wales is estimated to be around £2 billion, and this can only be reduced by implementing energy efficiencies at scale.

How do regulations affect heating, ventilation and cooling solutions?

The EU Directive on the energy performance of buildings has been in place since 2002 in a bid to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reduce carbon emissions and reduce the impact of climate change. The original target was for all new buildings to be nearly zero energy buildings by 31 December 2020, and public sector buildings by 31 December 2018. This was revised by the European Parliament in 2018 to deliver more energy efficient systems into building renovations and strengthen the energy performance of new buildings even further. In fact, the new measures include: ‘Creating a clear path towards a low and zero-emission building stock in the EU by 2050 underpinned by national roadmaps to decarbonise buildings’.

Building regulations look set to undergo significant change in order to move us towards this goal. For example, like elsewhere in the EU, primary energy targets are likely to become a more prominent part of compliance. These targets will define the maximum kWh/m2 allowed in buildings for all energy use including heating, cooling, hot water, appliances and lighting. This target could significantly influence the HVAC technologies which are specified into buildings, but it is currently unclear as to whether primary energy will be introduced, and if continuing the reduction of carbon emissions will be considered in the revision. While any improvements in efficiency will be welcomed by energy managers, achieving sustainability through reduced carbon emissions is also essential and must be taken into account.

HVAC technology for a sustainable future

In government’s Future Framework for Heat in Buildings, it is suggested that heat pumps, integrated water, heating and electric systems, and heat networks are the way forward for viable, energy efficient technologies, with a reduction of dependence on more traditional high carbon systems such as CHP.

Heat pumps are one form of electric heating which could make significant contributions to the long-term decarbonisation of heat in the UK. This could be in the form of traditional air and ground source heat pumps (ASHP / GSHP), or hybrid systems – for example hot water heat pumps (HWHP). Hot water is the dominant load within many newer buildings, so a significant amount of energy can be saved by producing it in a more efficient way. In smaller buildings, these units can be combined with direct acting panel heating to provide an alternative specification option alongside traditional heating and hot water systems.

Conclusion

It may be easier and less costly to implement the latest efficient and low-carbon HVAC systems into new buildings. However, with such a vast number of existing buildings, change here alone won’t do enough to reduce the UK’s energy consumption or reach our decarbonisation targets. Innovation within the industry has already started working towards providing the technologies that are capable of delivering the change needed, and many of these could be suitable options for energy managers looking to transition their buildings from fossil fuel to low-carbon forms of heating.

Adopting a low-carbon approach can provide ongoing energy savings and a building which is fit for the future. This means that it is important to get the right advice on selecting an HVAC system which meets these requirements. The next decade is pivotal for UK sustainability, and addressing our energy consumption is a complex process. Choosing an HVAC manufacturer who understands the sector’s needs and has a clear understanding of regulations, now and in the future, is key to unlocking the low-energy potential of our buildings.