Hot water – what’s in store?

Andy Green, Baxi Commercial Technical Manager, reviews the major influences affecting heating and hot water systems in commercial buildings that will take effect in the coming months.

For the operators and facilities managers of commercial buildings, with the task of controlling the running costs of providing essential building services, there must appear to be more problems than solutions. These problems fall into three main areas; the relentless increase in fuel bills, uncertainties over the practical effect of UK policies to achieve a low carbon economy and the full implications of the EU drive to regulate the energy efficiency of products.

These problems seem inextricably linked, as the cost of implementing fundamental changes to the way power is generated and regulating the way in which energy is used within buildings are surely bound to increase consumer energy costs. However, reassuringly, the underlying intention of legislators is that the impact on energy users of any consequential cost increases arising from the application of policies designed to counter the effects of climate change should be minimised. As a result, energy users are given the ability to exercise a considerable degree of influence over matters affecting their fuel costs.

Energy bills in the UK are already reflecting the considerable sums involved in switching energy production away from reliance on fossil fuels towards the increased use of renewable energy sources. When the transformation of energy production was first introduced the Government’s intention was to introduce measures to reduce the impact of these changes in consumers’ energy bills.

For commercial buildings, the relevant measure is the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive), which encourages energy users to capitalise on latent energy, freely available in the environment, to reduce their call on centrally generated mains supplies. RHI, which only applies in well defined circumstances, offers a financial incentive to encourage commercial undertakings to consider this step, not a means of covering the cost of making it. However, in the long term, taking advantage of the opportunity to microgenerate free energy will reduce both energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, whether or not RHI applies.

This is an important point, bearing in mind the Government’s own forecast that in the decade after 2010 the energy bills for medium sized non-domestic users can be expected to increase by over 25%, even after the effect of centrally funded cost reduction measures are taken into account. As the provision of essential heating and hot water services accounts for approximately 50% of a commercial building’s energy demand, businesses will appreciate that renewable energy technology solutions are cost effective and immediately available.

Reduce emissions

UK policy aims designed to bring about a low carbon economy rely heavily on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. A major mechanism to achieve this goal is the Building Regulations, which prescribe energy efficiency and emission standards, to be applied when energy using products and systems are installed in both domestic and non-domestic buildings.

The next significant revision of the Building Regulations is scheduled to take effect in April 2014. In the case of new build properties, the aim is to achieve an improvement in energy use by non-domestic buildings of up to 20%. Existing commercial buildings will not need to comply until the replacement or renewal of an existing heating system is required, even then with exceptions.

As there are an estimated 1.5 million existing commercial properties in the UK, it could be many years before the desired low to zero carbon economy is achieved, bearing in mind the overall and binding 2050 target date. As using less energy leads to a reduction in carbon emissions and lower energy bills, many commercial building operators are choosing to bring forward the refurbishment of heating and hot water systems. This enables them to replace existing inefficient equipment with energy efficient condensing boilers and water heaters, integrated with renewable energy sources, to maximise both mains energy reductions and cost savings. The savings achieved are long term and can be significant.

More regulations

From September 2015, regulations under EU Directives on the energy efficiency of boilers and water heaters will be implemented. These ErP (Energy related Product) regulations will apply to the entire life cycle of products, including the raw materials used, manufacture, distribution, operation, maintenance, reuse, recycling and disposal.

The regulations will apply to all products ‘placed on the market’ or ‘put into service’, consequently covering installations in both new and existing buildings. The essence of these regulations is to reduce the energy demand of energy using products, which means that many current products will not meet the mandated efficiency or emission levels. This will become relevant when the existing system needs refurbishment, as in such circumstances it will not be possible to replace that equipment with a ‘like for like’ product.

Importantly, the stated intention of the regulations is that they should not affect equipment functionality or affordability from the end-user’s perspective, with gradual introduction to allow manufacturers the time to redesign their products. Needless to say, leading manufacturers in the heating industry are setting the pace in this regard. In addition to compliance with efficiency limits, products and systems must display energy efficiency against a performance scale, as required by the EU Labelling Directive.

Making a contribution

The heating and hot water systems in commercial buildings will play a prominent role in the contribution that businesses will make towards the achievement of UK reduced greenhouse gas emission targets and obligations. Improved energy efficiency will lead to important cost savings for commercial building operators and leading manufacturers in the heating industry are in a position to provide information to help in the selection of energy sources and the design of heating systems.

Energy users will have the assurance that installation of equipment using renewable energy can only be carried out by suitably qualified installers. Furthermore, the selection and installation of commercial heating and hot water products and systems, as with all other energy using products, is strictly regulated.

The full implementation of the enabling and controlling measures necessary to concentrate minds on supporting the achievement of substantial and permanent reductions in greenhouse gasses will take several years. Unfortunately, the cost of many of the new processes necessary to make this possible is already inflating fuel bills. Commercial building operators however can be reassured that the heating industry has the necessary qualifications, technical knowledge and practical experience to deliver accurate, reliable and cost effective solutions.

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