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World Environment TV
|Seeing the Big Picture. Why Gas Boilers are Still Greener, For Now...||| Print ||
Renewable technologies are necessary but the humble gas boiler is still the single largest opportunity to contribute to the achievement of the 2020 carbon reduction targets. So says Graham Russell, managing director of Viessmann, a leading international heating systems and climate control manufacturer that has rather shrewdly chosen this chilly July in which to launch its new domestic boiler range. Graham Russell writes: headlineENVIRONMENT is an ideal platform to allow me to write about renewable heating products. I could add to the debate about how the solar thermal industry is slowly deflating due to the delay of the UK government’s anticipated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI); I could offer you my opinion on sustainable fuel supplies for wood-burning boilers and I could tell you about an amazing new heat pump/solar collector technology dubbed ‘heating with ice’ that we are pioneering with a partner in Germany.
But I’m not going to do that. I want to send a message that it is the modern gas or oil-fired condensing boiler that presents the biggest opportunity we have in the UK of reducing carbon emissions. MP Chris Heaton-Harris was lambasted when he dared to state on a recent broadcast of the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (while attacking wind farm subsidies) that if there was one green energy policy he would introduce, it would be the installation of new gas boilers in every social house up and down the country. He’s right.
Why? We have to think realistically about what the government can afford to incentivise, what consumers can afford to spend, existing fuel supplies, infrastructure and the readiness of the renewables industry. And ultimately, what will make the most contribution in the timeframe.
Recent building regulations such as the Code for Sustainable Homes take care of the drive for energy conservation for new builds. In these cases, it is almost impossible to design and construct a new property without installing a renewable heating product, which has been great news for the burgeoning renewables industry. We’ve seen social housing projects adopt air source heat pumps and solar PV systems in their thousands and the commercial RHI is making biomass a particularly attractive option in industrial settings.
Yet, currently, around 16 million homes are without condensing boiler technology, the high-efficiency water heating process made compulsory (unless homeowners have a very strong case to make) for new gas or oil-fired boiler installations in the UK from 2005 and 2007 respectively. Our newest, most frugal in consumption, domestic range of Vitodens 100-W boilers returns 97 percent efficiency, compared to around 70 percent for the typical non-condensing boiler they replace. We could estimate that if every non-condensing boiler in the UK were replaced with modern technology, it would result in a reduction of 30.4 million tonnes of CO² per year, helping to reduce the 2020 targets dramatically. It is the retrofit market that needs to be a focus.
The condensing boiler is still the best technology available to suit the UK’s present needs and capacity, while improving efficiency. Taking the UK housing stock for which renewables are an option (and many simply are not), it is unrealistic to expect consumers to move from their old boilers to a fully renewable solution overnight. The UK’s 20-year window as a gas-burning nation should buy time for the renewable heating industry to grow appropriately and for customers to educate themselves on the right applications for their circumstances. Through gradual adoption, the technology will become cheaper.
The renewables market is still very young and is challenged by the need for accurate product and application information, and the required installer training. Although Viessmann has been manufacturing renewable heating systems globally for almost 40 years and sells 500,000 m2 of solar collectors globally per year, we still pick up the pieces from many who are insufficiently skilled. The incorrect sizing of heat pumps and renewable heat storage provision is an example of where forward-thinking consumers have been let down and left with underperforming and often, overly high electricity consuming systems.
An effective step for most UK homeowners who can afford to introduce renewable heating with their condensing boiler is to install weather-compensation controls (where small adjustments in the boiler flow temperature are made in response to changes in the outside temperature) and a solar thermal system. Combined, this can bring reductions of up to 35 per cent in fuel bills if the system is used for domestic hot water and central heating. The case becomes even stronger if the domestic RHI ever arrives which should allow consumers to access a tariff of 12 to 16 p/kWh, in addition to a Renewable Heat Premium Payment.
Boiler technology on the agenda
Viessmann is launching its new Vitodens 100-W range of domestic boilers next week, ready for the 2012-13 heating season. In addition to becoming more compact, lighter and quieter in operation, it is even more energy efficient. Technologies such as low-emission combustion and the boilers’ MatriX cylinder – which burns using thousands of tiny flames instead of one large flame to distribute heat cleanly and efficiently – generate extremely low NOx and CO emissions and make the burner environmentally-friendly. As an industry, continuous product development is generating better, cleaner products.
Incentives where they matter
So of course I would like each and every homeowner, even in these hard times, to see the virtue of investing in a new boiler today to reap as soon as possible the benefits of cheaper fuels bills and of feeling great about reducing their carbon footprint. But as we have seen from the success of the solar PV industry in response to the government’s feed-in tariff, consumers need incentivisation from government to help them put hands in their pockets.
The boiler scrappage scheme, which allows households with inefficient boilers to claim £400 towards the cost of replacing them with a condensing boiler closed in England in March 2010 when all vouchers had been allocated. Wales’ scheme is also closed. The Scottish government re-opened applications to its scheme in February 2012 after a further £500,000 was earmarked to help Scottish households with the cost of installing a more efficient boiler. After a pilot scheme in Northern Ireland last year, a new £22m fund will open in September. We think it is time for the government to reconsider incentive schemes for this technology in England and Wales.
Viessmann is a leader in the development of renewable technology internationally. We are quite rare in that we have a product for every fuel type and application. This means we don’t need to be biased. We, more than many others, are better prepared for, and stand to benefit from, a switch to renewable technology tomorrow. But the industry, policy makers and environmentalists should be realistic about carbon emissions reduction strategy in relation to how the UK keeps warm. Maybe we should walk before we run and concede that the humble gas boiler will have a valuable role to play for some time.