Beat the fuel bills

The latest figures on the economy show a continued contraction in the second quarter of 2012 and the gloomy summer is unlikely to have given much of an immediate boost, despite the buzz of the Olympics; it looks like the double dip recession will be with us for a while. It could well be that forward-looking investment is the last thing on your mind, but any outlay on equipment that will substantially reduce operating costs merits a second look. Clare Campbell, Product Marketing Manager at Dimplex Renewables, explains why large scale air source heat pumps offer great potential to make savings.

In its annual report this summer, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body that advises the government on emissions targets and reports on progress made, looked at the possibility of a ‘dash for gas’ in the UK, prompted by a demand for cheap shale gas, extracted by the controversial process of fracking.

However, the report concludes that the large scale use of fossil fuels will become untenable thanks to our rigorous environmental legislation, since although the market price may drop as further gas supplies become available, the carbon cost will increase, with environmental taxes increasing as 2050’s 80% emissions reduction deadline ticks closer.

In fact, DECC’s heat strategy document of March 2012 clearly outlines the electrification of heating as the future for the UK, in conjunction with the decarbonisation of the grid, and energy policy is working towards lower-carbon electricity with plans for more power generated from nuclear and renewable sources such as wind.

Heating systems that can tap into these UK-generated low carbon resources, including heat pumps, have a real edge over systems that burn fossil fuels, and also deliver security of supply, so the government is understandably keen for the trend for electric warmth to continue.

Cutting costs with heat pumps

For organisations of all sizes that are serious about making major inroads into tackling their operating costs in the on-going economic uncertainty, taking a look at their heating system can be a very good place to start, particularly in light of spiralling energy costs and increasing government policy supporting a move away from fossil fuels.

A large scale air source heat pump installation offers a persuasive combination of relatively straightforward retrofitting (compared with ground source), to significantly reduce carbon emissions and the resulting financial implications of the CRC EES, and crucially, substantial savings on running costs, particularly compared with fossil-fuelled alternatives such as oil or lpg.

Although the initial capital cost of switching to a heat pump system can seem off-putting, a quick look at the maths of the savings to be made with today’s high performance equipment reveals surprisingly short payback periods, especially bearing in mind that the trend of rising energy prices looks set to continue. In May this year, British Gas owner Centrica predicted that over the coming winter, wholesale gas costs will be around 15% higher than last year, while escalating oil prices mean it’s now such a valuable commodity that there’s a real risk of theft – insurer NFU Mutual reported a 153% rise in claim costs in the first half of 2011.

In contrast, in scenarios where organisations are faced with potentially having to upgrade an ageing oil boiler, falling installation costs and improvements in heat pump efficiencies are seeing payback periods on the additional investment to install a heat pump fall to as little as five or six years.

Thereafter, for the life of the system of around 20-25 years, the savings over the running costs for a fossil fuel heating system will continue to stack up, making heat pumps a very practical alternative to conventional systems.

Future funding?

Air source technology is unfortunately currently excluded from the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), an odd ruling, since air source heat pumps will be critical to the RHI if the UK is to achieve its carbon reduction and renewable energy targets. Last year DECC issued a call for evidence to industry asking for market data and performance figures from larger installations, and the heat pump industry was able to respond with plenty of good news, so it’s widely anticipated that air source will be included in the next phase of the scheme.

However, regardless of whether on-going financial support will be available in the future, the fuel bill savings alone present such a convincing case that heat pumps are more than able to stand on their own merits, and all types of organisations stand to benefit.

Air source heat pumps in action

The House of Bruar in the Highlands of Perthshire is one such example. One of Scotland’s most prestigious retailers, it is saving an estimated £10,000 per year on its fuel bills, thanks to four high powered Dimplex air source heat pumps linked to a master controller, thought to be the first installation of its type in the UK.

The heat pumps were specified as part of a £3.8million carefully planned extension to house a new menswear hall, which included energy saving as part of the business plan to lower its carbon emissions by around 50,000kg. Being able to accurately control the temperature for both comfort and energy management was an essential part of the planning and design as the weather in the area can be very unpredictable – and with over a million visitors a year, a comfortable environment is essential.

Two LA 40 TU and two LA 35 TUR heat pumps were specified to provide active heating and passive cooling. In the summer the passive cooling works in conjunction with automatic windows, avoiding overheating through solar gain. The heat pumps are linked to a master controller which is capable of year-round control of up to 14 heat pumps and 30 different performance measurements and to date the fuel savings compared with using oil are estimated to be around 60%.

Construction of the new extension took a little over three months, from breaking ground to the opening of new menswear hall. The heat pump system was fully installed and operational around a month prior to opening; its low temperature heat helped cure the concrete floor laid over the underfloor heating. Within months of the new heat pump system’s installation, its efficiency was put to the test with a prolonged spell of bitterly cold weather, with daytime temperatures of minus 16°C, but the system coped effortlessly.

The plant area which houses the heat pumps is sited 80 metres away from the main retail area, so extra consideration had to be given to the efficient delivery of the hot water to the building’s underfloor heating system. The pipes were fitted with additional insulation to minimise heat loss in transit to the heating system.

Heat pumps are just one part of an on-going programme of reducing the carbon footprint at The House of Bruar. All waste materials on the site are separated for recycling to reduce the need for landfill, rainwater is har
vested, and currently there’s a £35,000 investment programme to introduce low energy lighting and a major project evaluating ways to minimise food waste from the busy restaurant.

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