The heat is on

New research from energy company npower has revealed that schools in Britain waste an average of £2,000 a year on energy bills, equating to an accumulative 400,000 tonnes of CO2 across the country. The problem is most marked in secondary schools, with those surveyed each wasting an average of £7,700 – or 10% of their annual energy bill.

The figures come after a series of energy audits at primary and secondary schools across the UK and are a snap shot of the challenges the education sector is facing.  As institutions falling under the control of local authorities, educational establishments are simultaneously facing the pressures of cost efficiencies as result of the efficiency drive in public spending, while also bracing themselves for the onset of emission reduction due to the changing legislative landscape.

The newly-titled, Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRCEES) will also bring a new set of demands on schools.

Tough challenges

As many will know, the CRCEES will apply to any organisation with a half-hourly metered electricity supply, anticipated to be about 20,000 in the UK. Those whose consumption is greater than 6,000 MWh a year will be required to participate fully within CRC. Participants will have to forecast their consumption at the start of each trading year and buy sufficient carbon allowances to cover the predicted emissions. At the end of the trading year, they will submit their annual energy consumption, their equivalent emissions figures and the carbon allowances needed to cover this amount. 

While individual schools will not have an energy consumption high enough to qualify, participation is decided at a group level, which in this case will be the local authority. As a result, schools will find themselves required to monitor their energy use in greater detail and, in time, reduce their energy consumption in order to cut down on the number of emission allowances its parent authority needs to purchase.

At the same time, the Building Schools for the Future programme, which of covers refurbishment as well as new build, has set down some tough challenges. The strategy aims to renew all 3,500 English secondary schools by 2020, which includes plans to entirely rebuild half the school estate, structurally remodel 35%, and refurbish the rest. Thankfully the programme makes funding available to do this through public, private partnerships, but in today’s economic climate any construction or upgrade programme must also demonstrate value for money.

All this is coming together to create pressure on schools to reduce their carbon footprints in the most cost-effective way possible.

Making changes

In new build, many of these challenges can be addressed in the design and specification stages. Indeed, sustainability is now commonplace in the new buildings being constructed under BSF; but what of existing schools?  The challenge being faced is where to invest. There are a wide range of improvements schools can make including glazing, insulation and lighting. These are all potential areas, but with space heating typically accounting for a third of energy use in schools, it’s one important area that will need to be targeted for efficiencies.

Many of the schools and colleges in the UK are operating ageing heating systems, which are typically now failing to meet heating demands efficiently. This of course leads to higher running costs, but the age of the boilers also makes them more prone to breakdown, which increases maintenance costs. 

A new boiler will lower running costs and help reduce the carbon footprint of individual schools, both key priorities given current cost and carbon reduction pressures.

In most cases, modern boiler technology will mean an upgrade to a higher efficiency boiler, which will maximise performance and improve heating provision.  Various boiler replacement options exist for schools, not all of which are condensing but all can be specified. If improved efficiencies are to be fully realised, it’s important to specify the right boiler according to the existing heating system and the demands of the project.

Condensing boilers, for example, while being ideal for many applications, may not be suitable for the upgrade of old schools. If the existing system is some 20 to 30 years old it may not easily adopt condensing technology, either through design or suitability. Therefore, to realise the full potential of a high-efficiency condensing boiler, additional factors such as flue terminal position and changes in the water distribution characteristics may need to be considered.  

What’s more a condensing boiler will only provide its highest efficiency when the system return water temperature is below 50°C; unless this is catered for in the system design parameters, the boiler will not necessarily deliver the required benefits. It is often too easy to replace a traditional boiler with a condensing boiler and not give considerations to these essential factors.

Pressure jet boilers may be an option where fuel types are varied to include oil as well as gas or where higher outputs are required, but space is limited. The use of modulating burners permits higher efficiencies to be achieved, but their compact size means they provide flexibility in installation.

There is also merit in modular boilers, which use a series of identical boilers or modules, connected together to create a single heat source with an integrated control.  The optimum designs are compact and lightweight, with a small footprint and single flue and system connections which makes them ideal for specification where there are space constraints. With schools in mind, the modular design also means in the event of a breakdown, individual units can be repaired or replaced without taking the system off line.

Taking control

Controls also have a significant role to play in achieving optimum efficiency levels. Unless a high-efficiency boiler is managed and operated properly, the benefits of even the most energy-efficient boiler can be significantly reduced. System efficiency can increase by up to 10% compared to boilers without independent control systems.  Providing controls avoids the very wasteful cycling on and off of equipment that cannot take into account individual needs of specific locations and improves options for zoning. In schools and colleges this could be particularly important – the heating demands of classrooms and offices will be different to the requirements of sports halls, for example.

Recently, Ideal Boilers has worked with contractor SPIE Matthew Hall, to devise a heating solution for six new build schools in East Dunbartonshire. The £134m project has seen six new schools designed and constructed in a major investment in the region’s secondary education. All of the schools have been built to the highest standard to provide modern education facilities for thousands of pupils. 

With the schools representing the next generation of education provision in East Dunbartonshire, future as well as current demands were key to the design, with the heating system no different. The project called for a high efficiency solution, which would be cost effective to run and limit the environmental impact of the schools.

Idea Vanguard Boilers were the perfect solution because the units offer energy efficiency and high performance. Eighteen boilers ranging from 340kW to 510kW outputs were specified and installed, more than adequately meeting the efficiency and heating demands for the schools.

Further advantages of the Vanguard are the unit’s small size and that it does not require assembly. Once delivered to site, the boilers could be easily installed and commissioned, helping keep project deadlines on track.

With the Building Schools for the Future programme earmarked to deliver many more school
s in the coming year, a focus on heating is sure to be important. With cost and carbon goals in mind, there can be no doubt that heating technology has a crucial contribution to make.

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