Sustainability – how long will it last?

The theme of Alistair Darling’s 2008 budget was ‘Stability and opportunity: building a strong, sustainable future’. Feedback would seem to indicate that the building services industry has broadly welcomed the content, but many feel the Chancellor could have gone further to encourage or define more specific targets.
Up until recently, the word sustainable had very much been used in its primary dictionary definition: “Able to continue over a period of time”. Today its use has become embroiled within the environmental platform and its previously secondary meaning: “Causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time” has taken over and has become the explanation in common usage.
Certainly the forthcoming Olympic Games have been given the unenviable mantle of being the first sustainable Games, but what does this actually translate into and are there further ramifications for the industry?
The ambitions laid down in the London 2012 Sustainability Plan can certainly be taken as a clear indication of the Governments future intent in terms of making the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living. To achieve this they have adopted the internationally recognised hierarchy that states: Reduce, replace, offset.
To many companies these sustainability aims are not a new concept, for example within the pump industry Grundfos have been producing a wide range of intelligent pumps that place less strain on the environment since 1992 when Grundfos first integrated the pump, motor, frequency converter and sensor into one unit – the UPE Series 2000 circulator – for the first time.
This is not only because they will use significantly less energy during their lifetime than their fixed speed counterparts, although this in itself is a significant argument to switch to variable speed options, but because at Grundfos the entire process is exhaustively reviewed from every conceivable angle. This takes into account aspects such as the overall performance as well as the individual component design, function and interaction, the number of components needed, the number of and types of steps within the manufacturing processes as well as the serviceability of the finished product. These and more aspects add up to ensure that best practise is high on the agenda at each and every stage.
It is easy to see why pumps should have such a high priority as they are the single largest user of electricity in industrial and commercial applications in the UK.
DEFRA have set specific targets for the savings they want to see from pumps but the difficulty has proved to be in translating DEFRA’s aims into the selection process.
One of the central points made by Alistair Darling during the Budget speech referred to the governments’ ambitions for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero carbon rated from 2019. This is a point that the industry requires additional clarification on as to what it will actually translate into. However, the governments’ indepth knowledge of the intricacies of various industries and therefore their energy usage is limited. Therefore it is incumbent upon these leading edge manufacturers, like Grundfos, to take the initiative and actively lobby the government to underline the benefits that more direct action to support energy efficient products can have.
The enthusiasm of the youth, especially the under 12s, on the whole climate change topic is admirable. However to continue to have that same level of enthusiasm throughout anyone’s working life is almost impossible.
It is recognised that making the best efficiency selections needs to be married against a range of other demands that include budget constraints and time restrictions. We know that at the concept design stages, life cycle costs are often given a high priority; however when the project reaches the tender/negotiation/order placement stage the focus shifts dramatically to the capital cost of the plant. This is when the technologically advanced solutions often get jettisoned for fixed speed lower cost options.
Considering the capital cost generally represents less than 5% of the total life cycle cost while the energy cost is 90%, are clients being offered the most efficient solution?
The likelihood is that legislation will eventually force everyone to make the ‘right’ decisions; however, this legislation will be more restrictive upon those industries that have chosen to ignore the present situation.
So the bottom-line is if we want to maintain some freedom of choice we need to ensure that the pump solution decisions that are being made today are the best ones for tomorrow. So instead of asking can we afford to use variable speed pumps? We need to ask can we afford not to?

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