Is there anything the UK can do to combat rising energy prices, carbon emissions and our embarrassing place in the ‘league table’? Stephen Zouch, Managing Director, Intergas Boilers, says that progress has been steady since 2004 and there’s more good news to come.
When the Association for the Conservation of Energy published its report, ‘The Cold Man of Europe’, in March 2013, comparing the UK to 11 other EU states with similar climates and income levels, it wasn’t an uplifting read. We ranked last for fuel poverty and 11th for the proportion of income spent on energy bills. There won’t be anyone reading this who doesn’t know that the root of the problem lies in our ageing housing stock, 38% of which were built pre-1946 and only 7% post-2001. When you work in the housing and building services industries, a key role is to continually find ways of improving energy efficiency and driving down costs and the good news is - sorry, another report coming up shortly - that, since 2004, energy efficiency programmes have already helped reduce the UK’s total household energy consumption by one fifth. According to the UK Energy Research Centre and the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, in their report published in September 2017, this reduction resulted in a saving of £490 on the average dual fuel household bill in 2015. This is a real achievement given the 12 percent increase in the number of households, 10 percent increase in the population and ever-more household appliances and tech equipment in use in our homes. Government-led energy efficiency improvements, especially the major insulation programmes (i.e. ECO, CERT and their predecessors), the introduction of condensing boiler legislation and the tightening of EU standards on the energy efficiency of electrical appliances, have been highly effective. But as Government belt-tightening continues and green incentives disappear, it’s up to us, the manufacturers and service providers, to continue to strive for greater efficiencies to keep household costs and emissions as low as possible.
Retrofit is the practical solution
The only practical solution, given the amount of hard-to-heat homes and the level of fuel poverty in the UK, is to retrofit the best energy saving products available. As around 45 per cent of heat is lost though solid walls, double that lost through cavity walls, solid wall insulation should be the starting point, with loft insulation, double-glazing, boiler retrofits and solar PV following on.
Solar PV has been around for decades, but the energy generated could only be used during the day as there was no inexpensive way to store it. In 2015 East Lothian Housing Association (ELHA) partnered with tech entrepreneur, Andrew Bissell, to make sure its customers would benefit even when the sun wasn’t shining. And it was all thanks to SunampPV, a heat battery that is the size of a small suitcase which, when connected to a PV system and a condensing boiler, could provide 75% of annual domestic hot water free of charge. There’s no need for a hot water cylinder or immersion heater.
The right combination
No other PV-driven hot water system is compatible with a combination boiler, which was good news for Intergas, as it was selected for the initial trial. Bissell was especially impressed by the boiler’s heat exchanger. “This heat exchanger is amazing; it’s a high-performance product that’s condensing all the time and can take a pre-heated feed up to 85°C. When the water temperature coming from SunampPV starts to drop, the Intergas boiler progressively modulates up to maintain the desired temperature. It doesn’t need a special ‘solar valve’ to work with SunampPV either, which is another saving in both cost and space.” After a successful trial, the installation programme continues.
Knowing our housing stock situation is going to be with us for many years to come, we should all be working towards the generation of energy using renewable sources. If we do, the cold man of Europe’s going to feel a lot warmer, and it’s going
to cost less too.