As we strive for carbon neutrality by 2050, it’s important not to overlook the role of energy efficiency and retrofit in achieving our goal, says Tom Murray, Baxi Heating’s Specification Manager.
As the public sector looks to scale up decarbonisation activities across its estates, heating, which accounts for 37% of total UK emissions, is a clear target for action.
Non-domestic buildings in the UK account for 17% of our energy consumption and 12% of greenhouse gas emissions. Great strides have been made in new build developments, where buildings are designed to require less heat. But arguably the toughest challenge is to find suitable solutions for the variety of existing public buildings, especially those with heritage elements.
As manufacturers, we are working to deliver a combination of technology and techniques that will meet the different requirements. The feasibility of repurposing the existing gas grid to transport green gas is also being explored by ourselves and others to offer a low disruption solution towards decarbonising our older building stock.
But all the while we actively innovate to explore these options, we must continue to address the inefficiency of our existing buildings. With that in mind, let’s consider the critical role of retrofit in the path to net zero.
Given that many older public buildings rely on ageing, inefficient boilers for their heating, there is still huge scope for significant energy and emission savings from a low-cost plant upgrade.
Replacing dated, wasteful boiler plant with modern, high-efficiency condensing boilers, for example, has the potential to achieve transformational results, reducing gas consumption by as much as 48% in our experience.
Reliable lifetime performance
So how to guarantee that the optimum result is achieved?
While energy efficiency remains a key priority when selecting replacement boilers, it’s increasingly important to ensure that today’s products can be relied on to deliver high operational performance throughout their lifetime.
One means of assessing the reliability of the product is through the manufacturer reputation for quality. A second is through the warranty. The market-leading warranties that accompany Remeha’s condensing boiler range, for example, instil confidence in the products’ ability to keep on going and going.
As with all products, adopting a regular maintenance and servicing programme will help maintain optimum performance throughout its lifecycle. Factoring in ease of maintenance, servicing and part replacement as well as installation and capital costs will therefore provide a more realistic assessment of a boiler’s energy-saving potential.
While manufacturers prepare for the future, they are also engineering to overcome design hurdles on refurbishment and retrofit projects.
The arrival of flexible, ultra-compact floor standing boilers is just one example. The ability to arrange these boilers in space-saving modular and cascade configurations provides greater design flexibility, enabling high heat demand to be installed in restricted or difficult-to-reach areas.
Some manufacturers also offer the opportunity to use pre-assembled and integrated plate heat exchanger and low loss header kits to achieve hydraulic separation on older heating systems. Time and space-saving solutions like these effectively protect the new boilers from any debris and contamination, again optimising their long-term efficiency.
Progress to net zero
Relatively simple, affordable boiler replacements have the potential to make dramatic improvements in the energy performance of public sector buildings. As such, tackling this low hanging fruit offers local authorities a real and achievable opportunity to reduce emissions while delivering cost savings for the public purse.
And with experienced manufacturers working with energy and estates managers to evaluate the most suitable options, we can ensure that long-term high-performance heating is achieved for more comfortable, more efficient buildings.
When the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) refurbished a series of heating systems at its Harwell Campus, the goals were to reduce energy usage and simplify future maintenance and servicing.
The first project was to refurbish an old packaged plant room feeding two buildings. Since the installation of the original boilers, cladding and double insulation had been added to improve the building fabric. With the installed heating capacity reduced by 40%, three Remeha Gas 220 Ace floor standing condensing boilers were specified to replace the six ageing boilers.
The Remeha boilers were then connected directly to the site Building Management System to optimise efficient operation. The estates team anticipate that the refurbishment will deliver additional energy and emission savings in the region of 30%.
The second project involved combining two plant rooms, again with a view to ensuring more straightforward maintenance moving forward. With limited available space in the low-ceilinged basement boiler room, the project required compact boilers that would enable a large output to be achieved within a small footprint.
Three Remeha Gas 220 Ace boilers were selected to meet the doubled heat output capacity in this plant room. The ability to strip out the old plant also meant that the team could treat and remove asbestos from the boiler room.
STFC is part of UK Research and Innovation and operates world-class large-scale research facilities at its Harwell Campus.