Working Towards A Cleaner Future

The UK was one of the first countries to recognise and act on the economic and security threats of climate change. The Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels, through a process of setting five-year caps on greenhouse gas emissions termed ‘Carbon Budgets’. This approach has now been used as a model for action across the world and is mirrored by the United Nations’ Paris Agreement.

Last November, energy secretary Greg Clark triumphantly declared the energy trilemma to be over in a speech to Parliament which established a new set of principles to steer future development of the energy market. A market that can embrace the concept that cheap power is now green power.

The ‘energy trilemma’, so-called because of its summary of three key challenges that faced the sector, typically the need to decarbonise power generation in the cheapest possible way while guaranteeing security of supply, has been the core principle behind much of the government’s energy policy. “It is looking now possible, indeed likely, that by the mid-2020s green power will be the cheapest power. It can be zero subsidy. The trilemma is well and truly over,” declared Clark. Adding that, “Moving beyond subsidy does not mean to say we are reverting to the dirty, polluting world of the past, it is one where green energy can be cheap energy.”

However, there are still considerable challenges ahead if the government, UK businesses and those operating within the built environment are to ultimately meet the demands of the Climate Change Act.

A Cleaner Grid

Zero carbon energy sources are becoming more abundant and efficient, which is naturally having a positive impact on the grid’s carbon factor. As a result, carbon intensive generation sources, like coal power stations, stay offline for longer, and this has led us to a pivot point in our reliance on carbon intensive generation techniques. The carbon intensity, according to the National Grid, has “almost halved in a five year period.”

In January 2018 the carbon intensity of the grid ranged from 121 g/kWh to 443 g/kWh, a period where demand fluctuated from 23.78 GW to 49.11 GW. We can compare the winter range – around 300g/kWh – with the summer months, where load on the grid should reduce considerably without the heating demand. However, summer months carbon emission rates exceeded 200 g/kWh, and averaged out at approximately 175g/kWh, which is surprising because we would expect technologies such as photovoltaics (PV) to be performing at their optimal outputs.

In fact, the July centred heat wave created a higher carbon intensity than April or January.  We can presume this was due to higher electricity consumption by air-conditioning systems and possibly a fall in output from wind generation systems which would, in theory, be more effective in poor winter weather.

Increasing efficiency across the built environment

The tenth draft of the Government’s Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) was released in July 2018 and has already had a significant impact on the way we view and use electricity with lower emissions that have cleaned up its image as a fuel compared to gas. Under SAP 10 emissions in electricity have dropped by more than 50%, a significant change that takes emissions down to 0.233kg CO₂/kWh. Gas emissions have also reduced by 2.8% within the same time frame, but gas is going to be relatively constant when it comes to emissions because it is not generated, but rather is effectively mined. This means the end-product does not get any cleaner, the reduction is a product of improved pumping process and less distribution loss. Before this substantial change, electricity was considered 2.4 times dirtier than gas, today that ratio has dropped to almost one to one.

These developments are obviously having a considerable impact on the mind set towards electricity as an energy source for heating and hot water to serve the built environment. For a starter, new commercial builds with a small requirement for domestic hot water (DHW) load will benefit in a big way from installing any heat pump technology.

But for new builds exhibiting a large DHW load then there remains a solid argument for employing a gas-fired water heater. However, the smart approach is to also use a heat pump to create a hybrid system to pre-heat the DHW system. This gives a project considerable carbon advantage from the heat pump, because the COP is higher when the output temp is 50 instead of 65, and very high when the ambient is warm. In addition, running costs are kept low by only heating water at the cost of gas, be it from the gas or from electric with a minimum 3.5:1 COP.  This type of hybrid system approach also reduces the maximum available electric load the building needs, allowing for an incredibly carbon-efficient hot water system, and in warmer weather reduces a buildings dependency on gas to nearly nothing. There are also benefits to be had from reducing grid demand at peak times, and then utilising the heat pump at its most efficient.

In theory, the RHI for air-to-water heat pumps should also be re-evaluated. Previously the minimum efficiency to be eligible was a SCOP of 2.4, as this was the boundary where gas was a more carbon effective energy source. Not to encourage carbon intensive buildings, but that boundary could be lowered and still have a positive carbon impact on the existing building stock. And if a heat pump with a lower efficiency was selected, capital outlay would, in theory, reduce as well.

So far so good, but how successfully is this delivering against the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as set out by the Climate Change Act?

Half way there?

The encouraging news is that greenhouse gas emissions have already been reduced by approximately 42%, so we are just over halfway to the end goal, but the problem is the first 50% is the easy bit – increasing renewable energy sources and limiting coal fire stations – but what do we do to continue?

It is expected that 2018’s emissions in the final reckoning will be of a magnitude of 468 megatonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂ E). Shorthand for a collection of greenhouse gases, CO₂ E includes carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Carbon dioxide is the main target, making up 81% of all greenhouse gasses in 2016, and for this reason it’s the element that we think of reducing when targeting for a greener future.

The Government’s Carbon Budgets have so far been achieved through a mix of incentives, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and Feed in Tariff, and regulation (Building Regulations Part L). In this way the UK has been able to meet the requirements of Carbon Budget one and two, as well as achieving the third budget’s requirements (37%) well before the 2022 deadline. Despite Clark’s recent positive comments, the Committee on Climate Change estimates that we are not on target to meet Carbon Budget four, requiring a 51% decrease, by 2028.

The government stated in its 2017 Clean Growth Strategy “In order to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the periods 2023-2027 and 2028-2032) we will need to drive a significant acceleration in the pace of decarbonisation.”

Where we can start to make a real difference

The National Grid has already begun to outline potential future energy scenarios, but it is down to our industry to assess how low carbon technologies can be deployed in a meaningful way to address these scenarios. This means considering the effect of lower carbon intensity electricity on renewable technologies with emphasis on existing, as opposed to new builds.

From the systems already outlined it is clear there remains a strong argument for employing gas alongside renewables in new builds. When it comes to the refurbishing of existing building stock, that is where the greatest advances can be potentially made across the built environment. In such a scenario though, it is never going to be worthwhile for the building owner to put in a heat pump for preheat or as a standalone hot water source. From a renewables perspective it is going to be better to put in solar thermal. But when an existing building needs to be improved then it cannot be cost-prohibitive for the owner. This means it needs governmental support which generally makes solar thermal cost-optimal if the project site has the capability to support an installation.

As with all refurbishments, the physical limitations of a site will always drive or preclude certain options. Without doubt, gas infrastructure remains the most common for the provision of heating and DHW and a more open-minded approach to driving cleaner heat through a mix of replacement gas and renewables is what will really progress us towards the 2028 targets while also delivering considerable benefits to those living and working in these buildings.

 

Adveco expert Bill Sinclair, Technical Director Bill Sinclair, technical director, Adveco Ltd.

Bill Sinclair, technical director, Adveco, which also trades in the UK as A.O. Smith Water Heaters, brings almost twenty years’ industry experience in mechanical engineering. Having joined the company in 2011 as technical manager, he today holds responsibility for product and system development, as well as managing the company’s bespoke design and engineering teams.

Prior to joining Adveco, Bill held the role of installation manager at Millside Heating Services Ltd, and technical manager at Rinnai UK Ltd.

What can you do to protect your business from power outages?

While it was a common experience throughout the 70s, this month’s National Grid failure and subsequent blackout caught many businesses by surprise. The simple fact is that we have become complacent, expecting a consistent energy supply, and the resultant disruption that was seen across the country reflected this.

The National Grid failure was a rarity, but it is important to realise that such an occurrence had been predicted by experts who have questioned the risk associated with the ‘energy trilemma’. So called, because of three key challenges that face the sector, the risks associated with the need to decarbonise power generation in the cheapest possible way while guaranteeing security of supply.

Last November, energy secretary Greg Clark triumphantly declared the ‘energy trilemma’ to be over in a speech to Parliament stating that: “by the mid-2020s green power will be the cheapest power.” As is clear, his statement glossed over the third and by far most important aspect, security of supply.  In response to the recent blackout, Lord Adonis, former chair of the government’s National Infrastructure Commission, said: “This is a big wake-up call for National Grid. Their resilience is below par.”

National Grid’s director of operations Duncan Burt acknowledged the “immense disruption” the blackout had caused, citing the near-simultaneous loss of two generators being more than the grid was routinely prepared for. Subsequent investigation now points to a lightning strike on the network near Cambridge, a common occurrence, and critically the almost instantaneous total loss of supply from the Hornsea wind farm, which is currently under construction off the coast of Yorkshire. It cut from 800MW of production to 0MW in under a second.

The increasing reliance on extremely high volatility renewable energy sources (RES) electricity, where there will inevitably be peaks in supply of electricity, remains a concern for many considering the future consistency, and therefore cost, of supply from the grid.

Colin Gibson, former director of National Grid, and grid engineer, Dr. Capell Aris,  suggest ministers should impose limits on the construction of new wind and solar farms to help avoid a nationwide blackout, while some existing turbines and solar panels may have to be disconnected, and new developments restricted, to “secure” the system in the aftermath of this month’s major power cuts.

So what options are available right now for businesses seeking to maintain 24/7 operations? Whilst Lord Adonis placed focus on the resilience of transport and health systems, the bottom line for any business is the critical nature of consistent power for operations.

Solar photovoltaics (solar PVs) have retained popularity amongst organisations looking to lower emissions and increase their environmental responsibility as well as saving significant costs on energy. It also offers extra security when it comes to your power supply. However, there will always be limitations in terms of installation space for panels and the process of designing and installing can be lengthy. CAPEX can also be relatively high meaning ROI is slower, even with the government’s new SEG legislation setting new tariffs for exporting excess energy to the grid. To protect business operations from service loss, PV is more of a long term response.

A more rapid and viable sustainable option for commercial operations of any size are micro-cogeneration or m-CHP systems, which use the existing gas supply to run a specially configured engine that generates electrical power onsite. In addition, the m-CHP will recover the normally wasted heat generated by this process, this can then be used to heat water for other applications including essentially ‘free’ space heating.

Adveco’s Totem M-CHP is capable of delivering electrical outputs from 10 to 50 kW with a total unit efficiency of up to 107.4%. This makes the TOTEM series of cogenerators among the most efficient combined heat and power units available today.

For businesses wanting to reduce running costs, reduce emissions from site and guarantee a cost-effective level of service supply M-CHP ticks all the boxes. New installations of m-CHP are also included in the SEG legislation, like PV systems this enables them to sell excess produced power back to the grid.

More importantly, TOTEM’s compact design requires less space (it is just under 2m in length and 80cms wide) and can be assembled onsite in a matter of days. Relative to other onsite technologies m-CHP provides a relatively rapid, deployable response to any concerns over the consistent provision of affordable energy.

m-CHPs from Adveco are in operation throughout the UK, from first responder sites to offices, hotels, universities and schools. Discover more about the advantages of m-CHP in this helpful booklet.

Micro-CHP Becomes The Smarter Choice For Lower Cost Energy

Under new laws introduced by the government, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) guarantees small businesses installing new micro combined heat and power (m-CHP) up to 50kW, such as the Adveco TOTEM, and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will receive a payment for exporting electricity to the grid from the start of 2020.

Energy suppliers with more than 150,000 customers will be obliged to offer a minimum of one export tariff each to small-scale electricity generators for each unit of electricity they sell to the grid, based on readings taken from a suitable smart meter. Meters must be capable of providing export readings every half an hour, even if the tariff is not paid on a half-hourly basis. Those who supply half-hourly readings are expected to be offered a wider range of tariffs.

The legislation appears flexible and will enable energy suppliers to pay businesses for exporting electricity to the grid at times of peak demand, whether it was renewably generated or not. Looking to early export guarantee type tariffs currently available, the expectation is that suppliers will offer a payment of around 5.5p per kilowatt hour.

To qualify for the Smart Export Guarantee, small scale generators will need to have renewable energy systems installed to meet the standards of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). Payment of the SEG will not be linked to or affected by any other grants or loans, with the exception of those benefitting from the earlier Feed-in Tariff scheme which closed at the end of March 2019. SEG will not apply to those businesses, but they can apply to swap from the feed-in tariff to SEG if they wish.

For businesses choosing Adveco’s TOTEM m-CHP, the greatest advantage has been the up to 29% reduction in energy costs. With the new SEG tariffs in place, m-Combined Heat and Power becomes an even more attractive option for those seeking to produce electricity onsite. The electricity output from the TOTEM m-CHP’s gas-powered engine not only provides electricity that can now be fed back to the grid at a profit, but also for each kWh of electricity generated approximately 2.5 kWh of free, high-grade heat is also recovered which can then be used for central heating or water heating in the building.

To learn more about the advantages of m-CHP speak to Adveco today or download the brochure.