Good decision making

By Jonathan Jones of Tyco Thermal Controls

The Climate Change Act requires an 80% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2050. Whilst we have heard this statement many times before, it is only just starting to sink in how high a mountain this is to climb!

For example, approximately 42% of UK CO2 emissions come from existing homes and approximately 75% of the housing stock of 2050 is already built.

This means that driving building efficiency improvement in existing buildings is essential if we are to achieve these tough decarbonisation targets. This applies to both domestic properties and commercial building stock.

The good news is that this task is well underway. Manufacturers of building products and services solutions are required to contribute to the carbon reduction strategy. Some of this obligation is driven by legislation through building code, but some manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to drive down the energy consumption and the carbon emission of their products through a plethora of methods. It seems that all manufacturers see innovative control and monitoring of the products to be an integral requirement in carbon reduction.

Manufacturers of heat tracing system solutions are generally recognised for winter safety solutions such as pipe frost protection and gutter, drain, and surface snow melting and de-icing. If not for winter safety, then certainly for the low energy single pipe hot water temperature maintenance system. Either way, trace heating systems are running in thousands of buildings across the world.

Newly installed systems should now employ the very latest in control and aim to provide comfort, safety and energy efficiency. But what about the currently installed systems? The short answer is they need upgrading with modern smart control.


Smart control

Whilst the self-regulating cable component of a single pipe DHWS ensures energy efficiency, the introduction of smart controls, such as the HWAT-ECO, or smart panels, can help improve efficiency by providing boiler output temperature monitoring, usage pattern economy settings or ‘tap time’ economies, as well as setback temperatures in periods of low usage. Energy savings vary from system to system but typically range between 15-50% compared with self-regulating alone.

Heat tracing solutions for frost protection of pipes often rely on ambient temperature control to switch circuits on and off. I guess some control is better than not at all. However, proportional ambient sensing control (PASC) ambient control systems can reduce energy consumption compared to standard on/off ambient controls, by over 50% without compromising winter safety and performance.

Manually activated systems, or those switched by ambient temperature alone are thankfully becoming extinct and multi-sensor control devices detecting ambient temperature, ground temperature and even snow and ice sensors are now the norm. Energy is saved by only switching the heating system on if cold weather, snow or ice, and low ground temperatures are detected. Multi-sensor control for ice and snow prevention is especially important in delivering a safe system which performs when it is needed, but does not switch on when not needed as the energy consumption for such important safety solutions is relatively high.

Again, past systems were often switched only after the snow or ice build-up had occurred. Often this did allow the drainage path to clear but occasionally the damage had already occurred. In other circumstances, systems are manually switched on for an extended period of time even when ice and snow is not yet present which is good for ice prevention but not great for the energy efficiency. Nowadays, intelligent solutions which monitor ambient temperature and moisture/precipitation ensure that switch-on only occurs when necessary. Needless to say, the savings are extensive whether on a small installation or in a multiple circuit large gutter network.

The retrofit option

You have to ask the question whether heat tracing manufacturers do enough to promote the importance of retrofitting smart controls. The answer for us is yes because we go to great lengths and expense to promote the importance of retrofitting smart control. But as an industry, perhaps we can do more.

Promoting the latest controller as part of a major new project is pretty simple. But spending the time and money to re-visit existing installations with the aim of upgrading a component of a system rather than the whole system seems to be a far smaller priority.

Many manufacturers will insist that only the very latest control system will be suitable and that retrofitting such devices is a must. I think we need to be smarter though. We should view the upgrade or retrofit as a business case considering a number of factors which include the financial and energy savings expected. But other issues such as whether the building will run more efficiently as a result should not be overlooked.

It’s a big decision and often not a free decision, even if long term energy saving yields eventual cost savings. Therefore, industry support by market leading manufacturers should support good decision making.

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