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Benefits of using waste heat efficiently

Heat recovered from factories, incinerators and other commercial buildings may soon heat many UK homes.

In a recent article, The Guardian’s Energy Correspondent Lillian Ambrose describes the UK government’s intention that thousands of UK homes, offices and hospitals “could soon be warmed with surplus heat from factories, incinerator plants and even disused mine shafts under plans by the government to fund low-carbon heating.”

The Guardian reports that the government is looking to spend £30m to help set up “heat networks” across a number of cities including London, Manchester and Glasgow. It also states that: “The UK’s largest planned heat network will receive just over £12m to capture the surplus heat produced at a waste incineration plant in the London borough of Bexley to warm up to 21,000 homes in south-east London.”

This is a heat networks project on a grand nationwide scale, but this concept, also known as district heating, goes back a long way and on many different levels. For instance, as Build Energy records: “In the year 1330, the French Commune of Chaudes-Aigues (“Hot Waters”) began using geothermal energy domestically. The hottest springs in Europe provided heat for approximately 30 houses. The system used wooden pipes, with a central main and smaller channels serving each home. The method survives in the spa town today.”

The technology of heat recovery

The principle of heat recovery used in district heating networks can also work exceptionally well in individual industrial settings such as factories. For instance, Schwank has carried out a range of innovative heat recovery installations, including for Bauer in Germany.

Using the hybrid Schwank heat recovery solution, heat is recovered from the exhaust gases of Bauer’s Schwank radiant tube heating system and fed into an air-water heat exchanger. This exchanger then outputs the heat energy of the exhaust gases in the form of hot water, which is directed into a hot water storage cylinder. This supports the hot-water heating of Bauer’s offices, both saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

A variety of initiatives of different scales of size and complexity will be required to reach the global target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Responsible manufacturers in the HVAC sector are putting significant efforts, skills and resources into technological developments to support this objective.

IEA analyses pandemic effects on Energy Efficiency objectives

The IEA (International Energy Agency) has published its Energy Efficiency 2020 report, as the latest in its annual overviews of worldwide developments in energy efficiency. The report gives a comprehensive appraisal of the issue through the analysis of energy data, policy decisions and technological trends.

These yearly updates by the IEA are always worth studying, but last year provided unique circumstances due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The IEA states that: “Since 2015, global improvements in energy efficiency, as measured by primary energy intensity, have been declining. The Covid-19 crisis adds an extra level of stress. As a result of the crisis and continuing low energy prices, energy intensity is expected to improve by only 0.8% in 2020, roughly half the rates, corrected for weather, for 2019 (1.6%) and 2018 (1.5%). This is well below the level needed to achieve global climate and sustainability goals.”

The pandemic has had dramatic effects on the priorities of the present and has created a huge degree of uncertainty about the future. The economic crisis caused by Covid-19 restrictions is likely to delay new investment in energy efficient technologies, with business spending on efficiency measures “facing pressure as energy prices remain low.”

Building back better

building back better after the pandemic

In our previous blog entry late last year, we stated that: “When the pandemic ends, energy efficiency improvements will be more important than ever.” The idea of an end to the risk of coronavirus seems, with the passing of time, to have been over-optimistic. The virus has shown it has the ability to mutate at an alarming rate and it may well remain an unwelcome presence requiring regular vaccination programmes to keep it at bay.

However, we believe that the key element of that statement remains true. Energy efficiency not only benefits environmental sustainability but also reduces operating costs for businesses and households alike. It can be seen as an aid rather than a hindrance to economic recovery.

Having described the negative impact of Covid-19 on energy efficiency developments, the IEA also adds a note of optimism: “On the other hand, the socio-economic benefits of energy efficiency are now becoming widely recognised. Governments are starting to rise to the challenge of “building back better” from this crisis, announcing billions of dollars in stimulus spending to increase energy efficiency, particularly in buildings and transport.”

Hopefully, this policy of “building back better” will be a lasting legacy of Covid-19. Governments worldwide have found a common purpose in fighting the pandemic, and if similar global efforts were applied to actions on energy efficiency, the results could be very significant.

Covid-19 and energy efficiency developments

When the pandemic ends, energy efficiency improvements will be more important than ever.

The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies worldwide has been immense and the energy sector has suffered momentous setbacks. Back in June 2020, an article by the IEA (International Energy Agency) opened with the words: “The Covid-19 pandemic is having a major impact on energy systems around the world, curbing investments and threatening to slow the expansion of key clean energy technologies.”

Titled “The Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on Clean Energy,” the article dealt with what the authors saw as the ten key emerging trends resulting from the pandemic which related to sustainability and energy usage. The IEA explained that prior to the pandemic, energy efficiency initiatives globally had not met the necessary targets, and that the situation had worsened amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The article continued by stating: “In this environment, policies to incentivise building, technology and infrastructure upgrades across different parts of the economy are crucial and can benefit efficiency, jobs and economies. Maintaining and strengthening standards for appliances, building equipment and vehicles will be important over the long term to sustain jobs and efficiency improvements.”

Furthermore, the authors of a recent contribution to National Geographic Magazine warned against the assumption that Covid-19 lockdowns could have a significant impact on carbon emissions reduction. “Global emissions were projected to peak in 2024, but COVID-19 could accelerate the process. This year’s decline might herald an earlier transition to falling CO2 levels. Reflecting no structural changes, however, 2020 lockdown-driven declines are unstable and temporary. Looking forward, keeping global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is achievable, but would require immediate, drastic emissions cuts, sustained year after year for decades, until net emissions are zero.”

Economic and environmental gains

The quest for energy efficiency in appliances, covering a wide range of products, is what drove the ErP (Energy-related Products) Directive, which this blog was set up to comment about, particularly in relation to the HVAC industry. However, as the IEA indicated, energy efficiency improvements are required over a range of sectors and HVAC in industrial and commercial buildings must be a key priority.

However, as we said in our blog entry on energy efficiency at the beginning of this year: “The difference between moves towards energy efficiency and many other measures to curb carbon emissions is that there can be economic benefits that frequently come about in a relatively short period of time.”

For industrial and commercial buildings, the installation or retrofitting of an energy-efficient heating system can achieve significant reductions in operating costs as well as delivering environmental benefits. For instance, it has been continually demonstrated that installing a system of Schwank gas-fired infrared radiant plaque or tube heaters can offer a rapid return on investment for the owners and managers of these premises.

Commenting on their study about rebuilding the UK economy post Covid-19, Energy UK explained that: “The report states that an ambitious national programme to retrofit housing with energy efficiency measures, alongside the continuing installation of smart meters, would quickly create long term employment while cutting bills by hundreds of pounds for customers and reducing emissions.”

Energy efficiency improvements in residential and non-residential buildings can benefit the national economy, the environment and the finances of energy consumers. When we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, these factors will become ever more important.