Refrigeration Part 1 – Choosing the right refrigerant

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Refrigerants are a key component for air conditioning and refrigeration. Since the 19th century there have been many refrigerants developed and used but none of them has as yet become the industry standard.

As an industry we should not consider reducing F-Gas emissions as just complying with legislation to meet government set targets, but reducing them will also have a positive effect on operating costs.  We can make cost savings through efficient operation and we can also help enhance market reputation by being more environmentally friendly.

To have a good understanding of this we need to look at:

  • Available refrigerant types
  • Our selection criteria
  • How we evaluate the available refrigerants

Traditionally commercial businesses have been using R12, a CFC, and R502a CFC/HCFC. In addressing the ozone depletion problem, most manufacturers have adopted either R404A a HFC blend or R134a. However, both are potent greenhouse gases (Nicholas Cox).

So the industry needs to look at future solutions which might be natural refrigerants, although some design change might be required on the equipment used. The following refrigerant replacements all require system and operational changes to current practice:

20140213_132647_resizedIsobutane (R600A) is a hydrocarbon , and hence is flammable. The thermodynamic properties that are very similar to those of R134a. Isobutane presents other advantages, such as its compatibility with mineral oil and better energy efficiency and cheaper than that of R134a. The use of isobutane requires minimal design changes, such as the relocation of potential ignition sources outside of the refrigerated compartment. Operational changes will also be required.

Propoane (R290). With a boiling point of -42C, propane is an excellent alternative to R22 as it requires similar working pressures. An added advantage is that except for added safety measures because of its flammability, virtually no design change is required in systems when switching from R22 to propane. The combination of its good thermodynamic and thermophysical properties yields systems that are at least as energy efficient as those working with R22. The use of propane is increasing in countries where regulations allow it.

Ammonia (R171). Ammonia has been continuously used throughout modern refrigeration history. Despite its numerous drawbacks, it is toxic and flammable in concentrations between 15.5% and 28% in air. It is not compatible with copper, thus requiring other materials of construction. Its thermodynamic and thermophysical properties also yield very efficient refrigeration systems. Because of its acute toxicity, stringent regulations apply for ammonia systems, which require close monitoring and highly skilled engineers and technicians.

20140213_132339_resizedCarbon dioxide (CO2) is not a new refrigerant. Rather, it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 90’s. The use of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant has gone back well over a century. Its application was abandoned in the mid-50s, with the widespread use of the CFC refrigerants, which were more efficient, more stable and safer. Due to its low environmental impact, low toxicity and non-flammability, CO2 is now regaining popularity from refrigeration system designers when an alternative to fluorocarbons is being sought. (Ahmed Bensafi and Bernard Thonon)

So there are alternatives on the market and technology development is tackling this issue it is now up to the designers and operators to specify something new to move the industry forward. With F-Gas regulation 2 coming we need to get ahead of the game.

We have tried to cover some of the available refrigerants seen in the market and we will be evaluating and discussing the selection criteria in our future blogs.

Making buildings better – measuring for improved building performance

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

BSRIA has always been in the business of measuring, whether it is a physical quantity such as temperature or pressure, a market assessment such as volume of product imported to a given country or a softer, more management-orientated value such as a benchmark or satisfaction score. Measuring is a fundamental characteristic of our industry’s operations and it is in BSRIA’s DNA.

The need for accurate and more comprehensive measurement has been increasing in response to the revolution that is the low carbon agenda. Revolution is no idle description either. In just over a decade, carbon signatures of new buildings have been required to fall to “nearly zero” – yet few owners were even aware of their building’s operational carbon use at the start. In looking backwards over the past few years, I think BSRIA can be proud of its role in promoting the increased use of through-life measurement embedded in processes such as Soft Landings and the associated building performance evaluations.

There is another BSRIA process that is associated with the collection of measurements. This is the process that turns detailed, often randomly accumulated and frequently disconnected data and information into documents that can be used by our members to guide them in their work. A couple of decades ago this process was greatly enhanced by the availability of a managed construction research programme that not only contributed funds from central government but much more importantly brought focus and long term stability to the accumulation of knowledge. This stability was crucial since it enabled individuals to establish research skills and careers with enduring value to the sector they served. Loss of this programme has also resulted in a loss of cohesion between frontline companies willing to collaborate within the longer term research process.

There is a however a new kid on the block that may be about to revolutionise the traditional measure/analyse/publish process that has dominated research and guidance in our sector.

As disruptive technologies go, Big Data has managed to remain under the public radar quite well until the recent disclosures of the USA “Prism” project. Under Prism, colossal quantities of data harvested from both open and private sources are analysed to identify supposed threats to homeland security. It is the use of automatic analytics software combined with large arrays of sophisticated new sensing technologies that makes Big Data techniques so intriguing for the built environment sector.

By way of example, consider the problem of maintaining comfortable temperatures in a space. Traditionally we have used lab research on volunteers to establish what “comfort” requires. Ole Fanger took years to generate his widely used algorithms but they still do not cover all the possible variables that affect perceived comfort. We now use a thermostat, with a setpoint guided by Fanger, and assume that all is well with our occupants. In the new paradigm, cameras utilising facial recognition software will be capable of spotting yawning (too hot, too much CO?) or sluggish activity (too cold). This data is available for every worker in a given space and a “voting” system used to optimise comfort over the group.

But of course there is more. This data could be available from many sources in a Prism type environment. There would now be the potential to mine the data to establish new benchmarks feeding back to the design process that can be tailored to the particular activity type. Schools, offices, homes and shops each can be analysed not just to establish a single setpoint value but to understand in great detail the envelope or distribution of responses. At last, proper large scale data sets can aid our work – and most of what we need to do this is already available through installed BEMS.

There is one further gain possible from this approach. Traditional academic research leading to refereed papers and thence to institutional guidance can take half a working lifetime to complete. Big Data results can be achieved in hugely reduced timespans. Take the case of adverts you see on Google – these are tailored specifically to you based on purchase decisions you may have only made via unconnected sites a few hours earlier. Scary but true.

Big Data is where BIM, Smart Cities, performance contracting and responsive design meet. It challenges all the preconceptions of professional codes, cuts swathes through the notion of privacy and opens up “our” market for knowledge to an entirely new set of competitive players. The next decade is going to be seriously exciting and I am sure BSRIA will remain strong to its ethos of Measuring and Managing in this startling new environment.

BSRIA provides a range of services to conduct and support BPE, from the complete evaluation to providing energy monitoring instruments and benchmarking building performance.

Review of the BSRIA Briefing 2013 – Changing Markets, New Opportunities

“Construction is the last of the big industries to go digital”, John Tebbit, Construction Products Association

November 2013 saw another brilliant BSRIA Briefing held as always at the fantastic Brewery in London. The event was chaired by John Tebbit, Industry Affairs Director at the Construction Products Association with c400 industry professionals in attendance. The speakers this year were focusing on customer satisfaction, data centre trends, changes in building practice and design decisions, smart technology leading the industry forward and the internet of things.

Chairman John highlighted two key issues facing the industry, the Construction 2025 strategy and the move towards Low Carbon as well as the construction industry being the last industry to go digital despite a demand to do so.

Bukky Bird talked about Tesco as a continuously changing organisation by highlighting some of the company’s historical milestones. From Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen opening a market stall in 1919 to becoming a global company with just over half a million colleagues today.

Bukky also highlighted some current customer expectations and key drivers for this such as the current economic context. She emphasised the need for organisations to understand and respond to changing needs and environments.

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, Tesco

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, TescoToday’s customer is under pressure, struggling with rising costs and dealing with lifestyle changes. The focus is therefore on family and the home, with a real expectation that brands should reduce waste and save money. Responding quickly to these needs is critical for retailers like Tesco and this should therefore drive the focus through the industry supply chain.

A challenge facing our industry is how to develop true partnerships to tackle these problems. Bukky highlighted the need for flexibility, agility and the need for the industry to be willing to change. The customer is changing radically and the building industry needs to be ahead of this curve.

Historically we have been very slow to adapt, and this is an opportunity to buck that trend. Her final point was that the industry are not supplying Tesco, but Tesco’s customers – understanding the customer’s needs and developing innovative solutions to meet these is key to successful partnerships.

“Nobody ever did anything to be green, they did it to save money”, Nicola Hayes, DatacenterDynamics

 Nicola Hayes looked at a rather different sector focusing on data centre trends and energy. Datacentres Nicola argued are the buildings you do not see, the hidden side of the industry and yet becoming a central part of several industries as people relocate their data to the Cloud. Nicola discussed the fact that Datacentres may be hidden but they do suffer negative publicity mostly due to the energy usage of such buildings and the accusation from the Press that they are singlehandedly destroying the planet. When viewing the industry as a country, the industry uses a little less energy than the UK as a whole, marked at 332.9TWh which is an exceptional amount and understandably a worry for the industry and a target from the Press.

But it was the trends that Nicola was concentrating on, where the Datacentre industry has come from and the expectations of it for the future. In three years the industry has grown from $86bn to a staggering $120bn as well a doubling in space used for the buildings, growing from 15million sqm to 31million sqm. The growth of Datacentres is down to several other key industries, the rate of increase has risen for Professional Services, Energy & Utilities, Industrial & Process and Media & Telecoms. With this growth there has been a change in how Datacentres are being built and their operations. There has been a 15% increase in outsourcing for the industry since 2007 rising to nearly a quarter of the industry but IT Optimisation still remains a major investment.

For the built environment the biggest change Datacentres has had for them is the increase in energy monitoring and the storage of millions of data bits. People in the world, particularly the US, UK and Germany are starting to become more conscious of energy efficiency therefore more business is generated for the Datacentre industry through big data from energy monitoring. Nicola pointed out that this is not done for a purely ‘green’ reason but primarily to monitor costs which are why most universities do not monitoring as they are not responsible for the financial side of their energy use.

With there being such a focus on energy efficiency, the way Datacentres are being built has also been a changing trend with there being 25% increase in the number of retrofits of Datacentres while there was only a 2.1% increase in the number of new builds. Efficiency measures (to answer to the Press criticism) are also now determined from the outset. However despite Datacentre industry growing at a fast rate there are risks involved for the industry from the small scale of compliance to the large scale of terrorist attacks. With these risks comes an important debate that is happening within the industry, cost vs. risk.

“There is a market for MVHR but we need to get better at delivering it”, Nigel Ingram, Jospeh Rowntree Housing Trust

 Nigel Ingram continued with a discussion about social housing and the consideration of end users when designing buildings. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust currently looks after 2,500 homes in Yorkshire and Hartlepool. Nigel discussed one particular project the Housing Trust are involved in, the Derwenthorpe village which looks at the lessons learnt from past projects and how they can improve their buildings. The way the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust decided on best building practices was through experimentation over four years, they built two prototypes and used 17 different methods and as many M&E components as possible including grey water harvesting and block work systems. The aim of this experimentation was to see what worked to create the best possible building.

As well as all these design considerations Nigel also enforced the importance of the end user and their lifestyles with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust looking at how people live in buildings and what changes in lifestyles are expected in the future and how best can the prepare buildings for that. There were three main points that made up the JRH’s strategic servicing infrastructure, the first being fibre optics. The Trust believes that with the use of technology ever increasing including internet, television packages etc. they needed to invest in a viable cabling network. However none of the big companies were prepared to discuss such a project therefore the Trust developed a joint venture with an investor to set up their own fibre optics for the estate, by doing so they satisfied the customers and set them up for any increase in connectivity in the future.

The second point the Trust considered was Communal Heating, they looked at a variety of different heating techniques for the estate such as low ground source heat pumps.  Communal Heating was decided on in 2007 from a carbon footprint point of view as at the time the Code of Sustainable Homes was announced with zero carbon targets by 2016. Communal Heating is notoriously difficult to get working efficiently, just like any heating system however after it was distilled down into the six components that worked for the Trust it was able to provide fuel security and prince control for the future residents which is what users wanted from their buildings. The system now works and is one of the only systems in the country that is successful and has been contracted for 25 yrs to a European Communal Heating group.

However Nigel wanted to point out that the Derwenthorpe village has not been completely successful, the final point in their strategic servicing infrastructure was MVHR Systems. The project has not seen any success with these systems, it has been installed in 64 houses but customer feedback has been negative and there are many issues with it. As an alternative MEV is now being used. Nigel stresses that there is a market for MVHR systems but for it to work there needs to be massive improvements in the industry in terms of commissioning, installation and maintenance. There seems to be a technology focus rather than process and this needs to change if the industry is to satisfy clients and users of buildings.

Nigel’s main focus for the Derwenthorpe project was customer satisfaction, the importance of the end user. Fibre Optics and Communal Heating was installed for the benefit of the residents of that estate as they have certain expectations of the way they live including operational and financial. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust has focused on the end user for their design plans rather than what should work from the industry perspective. Rigorous testing and accepting systems aren’t right has gone into making sure buildings are built as best as they can be which is important for our industry, it’s taking into consideration the mistakes made on previous building stock and learning from them and also considering the occupants and their needs.

“The Cloud is as suited to small buildings as it is to big buildings or building portfolios”, Jeremy Towler, BSRIA

 Jeremy Towler reflected on the “smart” built environment and how we get there. Jeremy highlighted that there is a lot happening and changing in our industry emphasising that we are the last industry to go digital despite there being several opportunities for digital work particularly wirelessly. BEMS will become an increasing component of buildings, modules will be built off site and therefore digital technology needs to be an important investment. Mobility will also become a more important part of the built environment, currently everyone uses a mobile but with geo-location buildings will be able to recognise everyone in buildings and respond dynamically. With this the collective voice of the occupants starts to influence the building which could be quite revolutionary.

Building Analytics are also an important step towards a “smart” built environment, increasingly buildings have sophisticated software that permits building operation and how best to optimise them. With Building Analytics becoming a more common part of our industry there has been a move towards the Cloud which has allowed data mining to reveal relationships and trends we never could have imagined. With these advances also comes the development of Smart Cities, particularly in China where there is a commitment to build at least 30. Jeremy defines smart cities as an incorporation of intelligent buildings, broadband connectivity, innovation, digital inclusion and a knowledge workforce.

But Jeremy states it’s not just smart cities we have to consider, its smart grids and smart buildings. Smart grids is an advanced power grid for the 21st century, essentially it is a decentralised multi directional model where energy and information can flow from supplier to consumer and vice versa which enables a variety of new applications for homes and businesses. Smart homes on the other hand have reached a critical mass and are due to break into the standard housing market but with this there has been an opportunity seized by the utilities who are now offering connectivity.

With smart homes becomes the internet of things and the ‘ubiquitous homes’ where sophisticated systems learn behaviour and respond accordingly, like our mobile phones that can tell us where we want to go and how we need to get there, such software will be used in our own buildings to provide our homes with the settings that we need. However the current built environment is a long way from becoming a smart industry, currently more than 75% of the building stock has no intelligent controls which is primarily to do with the age of the buildings with over 40% of total stock being built before 1960. With this in mind there is an opportunity for the industry to consider a great deal of retrofit projects but for smart technology to work to its best potential for the built environment the industry needs new skills developed through training in software and hardware analysis.

“We are now accountable for how our buildings perform “, Michael Beaven, Arup Associates

 Michael Beaven continued on this theme of the industry needing to change but instead focused on workflows. Arup has learnt that change is beneficial to the industry, adaption is necessary to meet the needs of the client. Arup have changed what they do and how they do it, learning that doing things the same way over and over again is to no benefit. However despite the need to adapt there are constants within the industry, carbon being the main issue for energy costs and emissions for companies in reputational aspects as well as the bottom line an example being Sky who are very forward looking including reducing the carbon of their set top boxes from 10 to 4 watts saving 20megawatts to the grid.

Importance of energy and efficiency is paramount but so is what we build it with. Embodied carbon is a key player in how we build our buildings now; decisions are being made on where products come from and their whole life cycle rather than primarily cost efficiency. Buildings are also being tested now, everything is monitored in our buildings so we can learn how to improve them, we are accountable for how buildings perform. From this we can learn how to design buildings that are successful for end users.

Michael also emphasised Jeremy’s point of the internet of things, how the integration of IP controls are making building betters and even the advancement of BMW considering smart transport for smart cities. Building on the interaction between traffic signals and mobile data to develop relationships between them to better control traffic, even where you park will be managed in a smart way. Another important development in terms of smart technology is that people are now connecting and sharing information on what works for a building and how best practices can be established.

One of Michael’s most important arguments was the importance of BIM and the matter that we as an industry really need to get up to speed with it. It’s client driven so we need to be on board as it is not only changing our workflows but also our business, without a grasp we lose projects. There also needs to be an acceptance that BIM is not just about 3D drawings and design but rather it should be a changing of our work streams to digital.

BSRIA Briefing panel answers questions from the audience

Michael’s final point tied in one of the key themes of the morning, customer satisfaction or rather the importance of the end user. Arup are moving towards an end user focus, designing buildings for people rather than the client or the architect. He used Sky as an example of a company championing a place for people, designing a building that understands what the user wants rather than what is considered the best design. Michael emphasised the feedback loop, empowering people to vocalise what they want in a building, what controls work for them, with that Soft Landings is critical for discovering what works and what doesn’t and resolving these issues before a project is completed.

There were a variety of thoughtful questions throughout the morning ranging from what the industry is doing to combat the UK’s power supply reducing to 2% by 2016, John Tebbit argued that the UK needs to stop investing in the UK and instead build industry abroad and import into the UK. There was also discussion on why there are so many installations problems within the industry, Nigel Ingram suggested there was too much blame placed on the end user, that there needs to be more ownership of mistakes and to learn from them if the industry is to move forward. This was the key theme throughout the morning, for the industry to move forward in any pursuit especially digitally we need to focus on trends and accept change as a good thing. But when accepting change we also need to learn from our past mistakes rather than continue to avoid them.

“Change comes from doing 100 things 1% better”, Sir Clive Woodward

Following lunch guests were treated to an afternoon speech from Sir Clive Woodward who continued the theme of change being necessary to move forward and how that worked for the England rugby team and the British Olympic team. Sir Clive’s talk looked at the 3F’s or 6F’s argument and interestingly the importance of an Australian dentist and his impact on working habits. He emphasised the effort of a whole team being behind any win and argued that talent is not enough but learning, calmness and hard work are needed to leverage it.

A special mention also goes to Chris Monson, of main sponsor Trend, who was awarded an Honorary Membership of BSRIA, becoming only the 8th person honoured. Chris accepted the award from BSRIA Chairman Leslie Smith and thanked the company as well as the industry.

A big thank you to all delegates that attended and the speakers who gave their time to the event. Also thanks to Sir Clive Woodward for being our afternoon speaker and rounding up a fantastic Briefing.

To download the presentations from the event go to BSRIA’s website.

Smart metering makes BPE easy…or does it?

BSRIA's Alan Gilbert

Head of BSRIA Instrument Solutions Alan Gilbert

Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) is here to stay. With government driving towards 20% reduction in costs for its built estate and increasing unwillingness to accept design predictions as sufficient to prove outcomes, objective measurement will be key. Government Soft Landings (GSL) and the implied BPE activities attest to this. In the housing sector regulation is increasingly looking to proof of performance (airtightness for example) with a growing European focus on providing owners with objective labeling of homes. The recent announcements of the 2013 revisions of Part L have largely focused on fabric issues but it seems likely that attention will now turn to the performance of installed HVAC plant and associated controls which themselves will present a challenge in proving that combinations of low carbon technologies are indeed working properly.

All this is happening at the same time as measures to introduce smart metering are coming on-stream. With a commitment to have full implementation by 2020, smart meters should provide a powerful means to assist with BPE of both commercial and non-commercial buildings but will they really realise this objective?

Just how “smart” is smart in the context of metering? At its lowest level the smart meter simply offers a remote display of energy use (often expressed in £) so that users are sensitised to consumption. Rarely are both gas and electricity monitored and I know of no instance where water is included as well. This is a shame: water (especially hot water) is an increasing proportion of dwelling energy use and is largely ignored by householders. There is increasing evidence that this kind of visible display can have good initial impact but that users rapidly de-sensitise. Really, these meters are not smart but simply remote display devices.

More commonly “smart” means that meter readings can be transmitted to the supply company on a scheduled basis. This is the type currently planned to be used in the present roll-out. Again it is unlikely that all three services are monitored and the data is often collected at no more than half hour intervals. As an alternative to self-read or estimated billing they are undoubtedly an improvement and will help electricity companies come to terms with balancing home generation and network loading but the thorny problem of access to data remains to be overcome.

Finally there is the possibility of the “really smart” meter which will permit full two way communication between utility and user thus bringing into reality the possibility of sophisticated demand management options for the power companies. Potentially this could be a rich source of data for BPE but ownership of the protocols and access rights are likely to be a serious hurdle to potential third party users of this resource.

Even if full access to a multi-service, duplex remote metering scheme is possible it cannot provide the additional data that a proper BPE service demands. In order to interpret energy use data additional sensors are needed to enable forensic analysis. Internal temperatures, occupancy rates, casual gains from white goods and local weather, all are needed to understand and normalise energy use back to some design criteria. Even when all this is achieved there is often no substitute for “feet on the ground” to interview occupants or spot unusual behaviours.

Access to large volumes of user data is one key requirement to understanding just how the various interventions in existing dwellings or

British Gas Smart Meter

British Gas Smart Meter

the application of new regulations in the built environment sector are working. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has developed a restricted access National Energy Efficiency Data-Framework (NEED) and this has proven invaluable in understanding the real impact of certain measures such as cavity fill retrofits. Unfortunately this kind of data is not readily available to the wider research community at present nor is it fed from real-time or near real-time sources. This makes it unsuitable for analysis of individual properties.

We want to really deliver truly low energy (an carbon) buildings that are also healthy, productive and comfortable to use but,until the tangle of issues associated with privacy and smart metering are resolved then there is little alternative or more of this kind of work that will not only resolve issues in individual dwellings but also create a new generation of people able to interpret complex building physics and behavioural data. Surely a good thing in itself. If however we really want to look at effects in the wider population of buildings then DECC should be encouraged to invest in NEED and roll it out to wider research community so that academics, business and industry can better identify opportunity for action in bringing UK nearer to its legal carbon commitments.

For more information about BSRIA’s involvement in BPE including a presentation defining BPE as well as information on how Soft Landings fits in click here.

ECO scheme – carbon reduction or wealth redistribution?

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

The issue of retail energy prices is now THE political hot potato.  The invisible green taxes attached to household energy bills have suddenly become glaringly revealed and politicians of all hues are now looking at these supplements as serious vote losers.  But are they such a bright idea anyway?

The question really is about the use of hypothecated funds harvested from energy bills and used to create a kind of wealth redistribution in favour of energy-poor households.  Under this scenario there is a transfer of wealth from richer households to improve the lot of lower earning households by improving the energy signatures of their homes. The ECO scheme is not so much a carbon reduction scheme as a wealth redistribution tool.   The scheme does however have the twin benefits of deriving a relatively secure revenue stream and, by increasing the costs to “donor” households, acts as an  additional incentive for them to be efficient with energy too.

The problem, as always, lies in the continued confusion between issues associated with energy (and cost) and the release of carbon.  If carbon is the real enemy (as I believe it is) then this scheme is at best sub-optimal.  This is because although renovation of homes will undoubtedly improve the comfort of energy-poor households there is little compelling evidence to me that the costs involved (including the not insubstantial cost of administering the schemes) provide the biggest carbon reduction bang for the buck.  This is partly because improvements in dwelling performance are likely to be taken as comfort gains rather than energy saving.

We have just seen that it has been necessary to use Chinese money and what is widely regarded as a substantial central support mechanism in the fixing of a strike price for generated new nuclear electricity in order to stimulate the building of new nuclear (non carbon generating) capacity.  It is the very high up-front costs of building these facilities that is the problem.  Would it not be better to use the ECO funds as cash support as  low carbon generation building programme – nuclear, wind, tidal or whatever gives the best CO2 return per pound?

by thinkpanama

by thinkpanama

This then begs the question as to who should fund the improvement of poor dwellings.  Actually this is not so much a carbon issue as a social equalisation programme.  In all normal circumstances this has historically been met from general taxation in the form of grants and I can see no reason why this should not be the case in the future.   Perhaps, rather than distributing a £200 annual winter fuel allowance this might better be used in improving dwelling energy (not necessarily carbon) performance.  The private market for Green Deal products simply does not seem to have become excited at adding debt to the household for what are perceived as intangible gains.  Households understand cash and a more direct approach to funding Green Deal improvements through this means or indeed other mechanisms such as stamp duty may be a more efficient means of getting to the problem homes.

In summary:  Use hypothecated funds, such as ECO for the purpose they were intended  – getting carbon out of the system.  Use the money to support the most cost efficient means of doing this irrespective of mechanism for delivering this objective.

Don’t confuse wealth re-distribution with carbon saving – it distorts process and gets caught up with political weather cocking.

Is this the Real Answer for Cheap Green Energy?

Ever since the first serious concerns were raised about man-made climate change a generation ago the world has been caught on the horns of a dilemma. The choice has too often seemed to be between securing the kind of short-term economic growth which the developed world expects and the developing world desperately needs  on the one hand, and paying more now in order to secure the future of our world on the other.

It is small wonder that green energy solutions are still seen as something of a luxury accessory, perhaps affordable in times of prosperity, but pushed into the background at times of world recession, when achieving growth and combatting fuel poverty becomes an even bigger concern.

But could it be that a large part of the answer is beneath our feet, or that at least it might be: an answer that could have a huge impact on the UK as it already has had in similar countries. For once I am not  talking about fracking, but about something that has been around for a century, though the technology continues to evolve in exciting ways.

The heat network rests on the fundamentally simple idea of producing heat (or cooling) centrally, in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way, and then distributing this through highly insulated underground piping, to homes, offices, hospitals, factories and anywhere else that needs it. Often this simply taps into heat that would otherwise be pumped wastefully straight into the atmosphere.

Different measures could radically affect the growth of Heat Networks in the UK

Different measures could radically affect the growth of Heat Networks in the UK

 Such networks not only distribute heat but can store it, for hours or potentially  months, ironing out the wild and often unpredictable fluctuations in both and supply and demand and making it much more practicable to use ‘green’ power sources, such as wind or photovoltaic that are inherently unreliable, not to mention biofuels. Even where gas is still used there is scope for greater efficiencies, especially where the opportunity is taken to use generated combined heat and power (CHP)

 So why is it that this technology accounts for only about 1% of the UK’s current heating needs while in Denmark, with an only slightly colder climate, the figure is over 60%. In fact most European countries already make much greater use of this resource than the UK does, as do countries as diverse as China, Japan and the USA.

In fact the benefits of district energy are already recognised by many UK hospitals, universities and industrial plants and office complexes, frequently powered by CHP systems which offer added security of supply. So why has the residential sector been so slow up until now?

Part of the answer lies in how the UK population lives: predominantly in individual houses which are more expensive to connect, and in most cases owner occupied or privately rented, making it much harder to convert individual householders to heat networks. The relatively low rate of house building in recent decades hasn’t helped either. Gas prices that are low by international standards have also reduced incentives to innovate in this direction.

However the last few years have seen a sea-change, with far more new homes tapping into heat networks, especially new flats, spurred on partly by enhanced incentives from government and encouragement from local planners, but also by a growing Energy Services industry that is prepared to make substantial investments in order to make a long term return.

Here at BSRIA we have recognised this trend, and so decided that a fresh look at the UK district energy market was needed. The result is a report which examines the market, the main players and what has drawn them into the market. It also considers the main positive drivers along with the biggest barriers to future development, and what can be learned from experience outside of the UK.

Our research indicates that the UK District Energy market is already worth over £400 million annually (including capital investment), and that it is growing at the fastest rate in its history, so that we expect it to exceed £500 million by

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

2015).

The overview takes in different possible initatives on the part of national, and local government, as well as the EU, which could speed up development or hinder it, and at the key changes in technology which are likely to make a difference in future.

If you want to know how big this market is likely to be in two or five years’ time and what the prospects are for the future, then this should be an indispensible read.

To find out more about the report or to purchase it contact our Worldwide Market Intelligence team on 01344 465610 or wmi@bsria.co.uk

Response to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

The Chancellor’s statement yesterday was well trailed beforehand so there were few surprises. It seems that the “greenest government ever” is in fact true blue in tooth and claw with a continuing policy of reducing leadership in central government (by decreasing funding of staff) and increasing the expectation of self-reliance by industry.

Buried in the lengthy statement that dwelt very largely on the “back to work” theme was the commissioning of HST1, the prospect of a new North South Crossrail and additional funds for flood defences. All good news for the concrete farmers.

As far as greenness was concerned, there was little said but it is clear that the message concerning the long term availability of secure energy is now well embedded. A number of key issues were put forward:

  • Firstly there was the promise of a strike price for electricity that may bring the construction of new nuclear a little nearer. Without this underpinning of future revenues the private sector is always going to be shy of the massive investments needed with very long term recovery periods.
  • Secondly there was the promise of additional investment incentive for shale gas exploration. Shale gas has the potential to fill a difficult hole in energy supply whilst the nuclear builds take place. Hardly green but a pragmatic response badly needed.

One of the difficult issues our industry is going to face is the additional loss of leadership/sponsorship and infrastructure that civil servants have given us through departments such as DCLG, BIS and DECC. As their resources have been pared to the bone, it is unsurprising that delays associated with regulation, planning reform, energy reduction programmes (Green Deal for example) are becoming ever more visible. The question is do we have the energy will and resource to fill that void? The Chancellor specifically identified other industries as the future – “synthetic biology to grapheme” but did not repeat his earlier commitment to a zero carbon built environment.

In a nutshell my take-away from this statement is one of the need for self-reliance and the need to build better “regulation” from within our community rather than expect government to lead. Either that or don a cowboy hat.

BREEAM – What’s your opinion?

BSRIA recently held an event as part of our Building Environmental Assessment Network to discuss opinions on BREEAM.  This is always a hot topic with lots of views, and this event was no different.

For those new to the world of environmental assessment, BREEAM (the BRE Environmental Assessment Method) is a criteria based assessment of the sustainability of a building.  Developed by the BRE in 1990, it is now the UK’s most used environmental assessment method, and is often a requirement of planning.  More details can be found at www.breeam.org.

The aim of the event was to see if the 2011 changes were sitting well with the industry or needed changing.  It was also a chance to give BRE feedback directly for future changes, or problems that have been encountered.

Particular issues raised were:

  • The transparency of some of the calculation methods
  • Getting feedback or answers to queries from BRE
  • Issues with the energy credits in the 2011 version, especially when dealing with CHP units. 
  • Some refrigeration related credits appear impossible to get

Questions raised in the presentations were:

  • Is the value of each credit appropriate?
  • Is the industry ready for all the changes made in 2011?
  • Is the qualification route for assessors and BREEAM APs appropriate?
  • Is there need for more information for the industry?

The presentations given on the day are available from: http://www.bsria.co.uk/services/membership/networks/building-assessment-network/

So do you have an opinion on BREEAM?  What works well and what needs some adjustment?  Of particular interest would be your experience of the latest version of BREEAM, i.e. 2011.

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