Level the playing field for domestic VO to join SAP

By Jeremy Dodge, Head of Marketing & Technical Services for Marshall-Tufflex

Installing voltage optimisation systems in all UK homes would deliver annual energy savings of more than 10,000GWh, equivalent to 4.6MtCO2, putting many millions of pounds back into the pockets of hard-pressed householders.


Even if just 10% of the population adopted this approach the power, carbon and cash savings would still be worthwhile. And that’s before taking into consideration savings made from voltage optimisation in commercial and industrial locations, where it is tried, tested and accepted as an effective energy efficiency measure.


Broadly speaking, savings are around 9-10% for domestic customers and anywhere from 8% to 16% and even higher for commercial/industrial clients. We have customers in both sectors who are highly complimentary of their VO systems. Not only do they value the savings the units deliver, they also benefit from longer lasting appliances and machinery simply because the equipment is not forced to cope with higher than required voltages.


So why, therefore, with these well-documented advantages and meaningful savings has the technology not yet been included within the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) for assessing and comparing the energy and environmental performance of homes?


Support energy efficiency


It’s a question posed by Baroness Worthington to Lord Marland, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, in the House of Lords two years ago. She said: “…is he aware that voltage optimisation is not receiving all the support that it is due because of its exclusion from the energy efficiency rating system of buildings, known as SAP? This effectively excludes it from many policies that support energy efficiency and is an example of how we adopt an extraordinarily bureaucratic approach to energy efficiency, which is hampering innovation in this area. I hope that he will pledge to do all he can to remedy the situation so that voltage optimisation receives the support that it deserves.”


Lord Marland responded: “Voltage optimisation is an electrical energy saving technique…to give an optimum supply voltage for the site’s equipment. In other words, as has been done in No 10 and in our department (DECC) where we have put in this optimisation technique for reducing our own electricity demand. Therefore it is very worthy of consideration. The problem with it is that it does not have a universal remit and is not necessarily applicable for domestic use. However, we would certainly encourage all commercial property to use it.”


Lord Marland is right in saying that VO does not have a universal remit but product development has brought to market very efficient domestic units that deliver good savings. The secret to success in both domestic and commercial/industrial installations is ensuring the incoming mains voltage is of a sufficient level to justify voltage optimisation. We set the lower limit at around 230Volts, below which we advise units may not prove financially viable.


Many of the largest and most well-known companies in the UK have already adopted VO as a key part of their energy management strategy – think major supermarket chains, leading high street stores, hotel groups, Government departments, local authorities and the NHS. These organisations evaluated this technology and continually monitor its performance. They wouldn’t continue investing if it did not produce results. In addition the Building Research Establishment has acknowledged that voltage optimisation does reduce power bills in commercial locations. It hasn’t as yet, though, followed suit with endorsing domestic systems through the SAP rating, being concerned that savings from the average home would be small and these savings will diminish as electrical appliances become more efficient and the technology mix changes.


A different view


The VO industry, Marshall-Tufflex included, takes a different view, believing that consumers will be slower to switch to high efficiency appliances such as triple A+ rated washing machines, tumble driers, fridges, freezers etc than BRE predicts. Consumers, generally, only replace these appliances when forced to, for example when existing equipment breaks down or they move house/invest in a new kitchen. And even then many consumers will choose cheaper, less energy efficient, products.


The industry believes that VO effectiveness will fall by less than 1% by 2025 due to consumers investing in more efficient domestic appliances and electrical equipment. This will be more than offset by the 78% expected energy price rises predicted by DECC. There is also the anomaly that Triple A rated appliances are performance-tested at 220Volts and not the higher voltage that many UK homes receive. While some homes do receive power from the National Grid at 220V, this level is more commonly, and constantly, achieved through the use of domestic voltage optimisers.


Domestic voltage optimisation is not a panacea for saving energy in the home but it is, when correctly specified, a valid approach as part of a wider programme of domestic energy efficiency measures. Manufacturers of VO systems continue to invest in research and development to bring new products to market, with many thousands of satisfied customers throughout the UK.

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