The future of heating & SME support
Probably a bit late to say it now as it is practically the end of the month, but as it is the first time we have posted why ever not? Happy New Year!
Right, that rather ironic statement aside considering the year we are having thus far, let us crack on. And indeed, we have been! Government restrictions of course dictate staying at home wherever we can, so taking the decision to go out and conduct site surveys has not been taken lightly, but with little other option to survive as a business, it was also a fairly easy one. Safety precautions are taken, as they have been for the best part of a year anyway, and nowadays the awareness is so much greater and there is an air of acceptance; remember when we all used to grumble about wearing face masks? How automatic and ‘normal’ does it feel now? Will it feel ‘weird’ to not wear one and hop across the road to stay away from each other in the future? Questions for another day, whenever that is.
So yes, it has been a busy start to 2021; DEC surveys in Bedfordshire kicking us off before desk-bound (see, we do work at home as well) for energy efficiency report write ups for Lincolnshire schools and energy audit reports for local wedding venues – weddings will return, one day! The first week of the year was rounded off with EPC surveys in Birmingham for a major hotel chain, in the snow, a sign of things to come…
A new week, a new boiler! We moved to a new house back in November and within a week it was clear that the boiler was not up to the job. We had it serviced (clearly had not been done in some time) in the hope that it just needed a quick tune up, but its age seemed to be the main cause of the lack of heat upstairs, the hallway radiator as well would get warm for a short time before basically giving up the ghost. It was a chilly Christmas therefore as we waited for a new one to be installed, only to find that the problems remained; thankfully, our friendly plumbers did not charge an extra day of labour to do some investigative works the next day. It turned out the old back boiler system (house was built c1970), whilst it had been taken out, still had pumps blocking the entire central heating system that had replaced it later – it baffled us that the previous occupants had put up with this for as long as they did! Anyway, superfluous pump removed and a couple of old (really old, original-house-age old) radiators replaced and a Time Proportional & Integral (TPI) thermostat (and new shiny boiler of course) later and the house finally has an actual working central heating system for the first time since…well, ever!
This rather tenuously and predictably brings me to the topic of that new shiny boiler. Did we make the right choice? On the surface it would appear to be a resounding ‘yes’, not only are we more comfortable (the house is cavity-wall insulated, full of loft insulation, double glazed etc.) but we are saving on having to run a de-humidifier as this was the only way of getting rid of the damp and mould that was rapidly building up in the pretty much unheated upstairs rooms. The new boiler will be more efficient than the old one and the improved thermostatic control (and location; before it was bizarrely installed above the radiator in the hallway – so whenever the door was opened a blast of cold air brought the heating on unnecessarily, but when heating was needed it was shut off by its position above a radiator…though that radiator was clogged up so after a while stopped emitting heat anyway) will enable further savings. Gas is the cheapest fuel there is and it is the most straight forward retrofit replacement to do with a connection available.
There is a ‘but’ right? Yep. But…how long will this be the case? Coal is a big no-no (though still provides us with electricity, during the winter months at least when solar output is low and demand is high), oil is getting more and more expensive now that we are rapidly running out of it and arguably have reached & surpassed ‘peak oil’ – when will this happen for gas? Probably sooner than we all think.
So, there is the cost to think of. There is also the carbon to think of. Currently gas is, just about, the cleanest fuel there is. Its carbon factor is far lower than that of coal and oil and whilst biomass is deemed to be carbon neutral in that what it emits when burnt is only what it has taken in during its lifetime, the same can easily be said of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels after all are exactly what they sound like, dead vegetation, millions of years old, that during its lifetime absorbed carbon. The issue with it is that it (and modern-day trees) absorbs all this carbon during an entire lifetime, which we then burn away in seconds. The biggest issue with biomass though (well, there are a few including storage, maintenance, and safety but that is for another day) is its source. Saying that biomass is carbon neutral is only even close to being true if it is sourced locally and sustainably. Forest-based biomass is not sustainable, how can it be? The forests could easily be based in Scandinavia or even further afield, so they have a huge carbon footprint attached to each wood pellet, chip or log. They are also not exactly natural or biodiverse – the big topic raised by Sir David Attenborough in recent programmes (I also urge you to get his book).
Ok, so gas is the only way then? Hydrogen-injection into the gas grid is some way away yet (I almost initially wrote ‘pipe dream’ but thought it too much of a pun…but wrote it nonetheless) and there are issues with sourcing hydrogen anyway (green vs blue). The answer, electricity. When we were waiting for our new boiler I did look at Air Source Heat Pumps which can be used with an existing wet central heating system, residentially and commercially. For a house and system our size it would likely cost £6,000-£7,000 and electricity is several times more expensive than gas, so both the install and running costs would, on paper, be more than the humble gas boiler.
However…considering the efficiency of a heat pump, effectively at least 300-400%, compared to a modern condensing gas boiler (typically around 92-95%, and it is impossible go above 99%), it is not so straight forward. Certainly in our case we just needed something in quickly and the further work that would be required, as well as the initial cost (Green Homes Grant aside) made it was out of our reach, but certainly when the boiler goes next time in 15 years it will be forefront of our minds.
It will also be forefront of everyone’s minds soon enough. The Future Homes Standard consultation recently declared that heat pumps are the way forward to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Electricity is getting greener and greener (it is second to gas and has come down a lot in recent years) as more and more renewable energy feeds into the grid, replacing coal and the other fossil fuels. The same applies to commercial buildings, certainly new builds need to have some form of renewable technology fitted to them as standard, it seems to be common sense, though it is still not a requirement. Surely one day it will be?
In the meantime we are still working hard with businesses, particularly SMEs following a survey that this sector has not implemented a net zero plan or have any resources available to achieve net zero. Thankfully, we provide FREE energy assessments, monitoring and ongoing consultancy support to connect with verified, Government approved experts and installers, to help reduce SME energy bills and achieve net zero whilst maintaining and in most cases improving profits. For more details, get in touch!
kW Energy Consultants provide consultancy support to all sectors and industries to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions within buildings and deliver building energy compliance – Display Energy Certificates, Energy Performance Certificates, Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme, bespoke energy audits, reporting & projects. To find out more visit www.kwenergyconsultants.com