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Calm heads must prevail in a heated debate

The threats and opportunities facing the heating sector are many and varied, but Geoff Hobbs, business development director at Bosch Commercial & Industrial Heating, has a clear view of how to tackle them
The challenges faced by the commercial and industrial heating and hot water sector are forcing manufacturers to diversify and innovate to succeed in the marketplace, according to Geoff Hobbs, business development director at Bosch Commercial & Industrial Heating.

He says that the single biggest challenge we are facing is the economic austerity and the Government's commitment to reducing the public deficit. 'This means there are fewer grants and funding initiatives available than there once were to help UK business' transition to a low carbon economy.

'Local authorities in particular are having a tough time of late. As economic growth has stagnated, the Government has imposed even tougher cuts on an already beset public sector. Local authority budgets will have been cut by over 25 per cent between 2010 and 2015, with further cuts planned for 2015/16, which has had a negative effect on the orders and investments made.'

Affected by cutbacks

Regional green funding has, says Geoff, been severely affected by the cutbacks to local authority budgets. The shake-up brought about by the dismantling of the English regional development agencies, which once held the purse strings to much of the green funding at a regional level, has also influenced spending.

'With less money budgeted, saving money on heating bills should be a priority for all local authority estate managers,' says Geoff. 'The majority of savings on any building estate have to come from both a better approach to maintenance of existing building services, and simple energy efficiency improvements on refurbishment projects.

'Thankfully, there has been a significant improvement in private investment and business growth, which is mitigating the cuts made across the public sector. New funding sources and investment vehicles have now come on stream, including the Government's £3 billion Green Investment Bank, the £2.6 billion Regional Growth Fund and the private sector operated Green Deal Finance Company.'

Rising to the challenge of economic austerity remains difficult, but Geoff is upbeat about his own company's prospects: 'Due to private sector investment and growth, we are counteracting the reduced local authority spending by achieving success in the leisure and private health industries. In addition, we have secured some great projects with some large hotel groups and breweries as well as a large private health provider.

'We are also experiencing growth in sectors where there is a desire to remove hot water storage systems and replace them with a continuous flow system. The flexibility of continuous flow systems makes the technology suitable for an unprecedented number of commercial applications.'

This, Geoff believes, brings with it a huge opportunity for contractors, consultants, specifiers and installers - all of whom can look to grow their business by offering products from this sector.

He says this transition is because continuous flow systems reduce the risks of legionella proliferation, eliminate the standby energy losses associated with storage systems and you can guarantee hot water will always be available.

However, coping with tough economic conditions is not the only challenge for Geoff 's company. He explains: 'One of our other key challenges is to grow the Bosch brand within the commercial and industrial heating market. Bosch is one of the world's super brands, so we are certainly a brand which is recognised in other industries, but there is a lot of work to be done to achieve this same level of recognition in the commercial and industrial heating sector.'

Until recently, the Bosch's commercial ad industrial heating portfolio was epresented by regional brands such as Buderus, Loos or Köhler and Ziegler. However: 'Our association with Bosch is something we are keen to use to
strengthen our offering in the UK.'

Contractors and designers in the building services sector also face big challenges. For Geoff, probably the biggest is the transition towards higher efficiency technology, particularly in existing buildings.

He explains: 'The ever increasing pressure of reducing CO2 emissions and fuel costs has meant retrofit installations are now involving increasingly complex systems and a mixture of fuel technologies feeding into a heating and hot water system.

Managing and monitoring

'What has to be taken into account from the outset of any large-scale heating installation is the manner in which the heating sources can be managed and monitored by a building management system (BMS). Aside from technical specification of the heating technologies themselves, what also has to be considered is the make-up of the BMS as the overhaul of an existing system can prove extremely costly.'

In incorporating a specific, sophisticated heating controls system, he says, the specifier is essentially able to hand over certain parts of the control from the BMS to the dedicated heating system controller.

'This is particularly valuable when it comes to bivalent or multivalent heating systems, where two or more heating sources are combined to enhance efficiency. The more complex the heating system, the more intricate the BMS control program required, which therefore opens up an opportunity for a manufacturer's bespoke heating control to share the load and ensure the heating side of the building's requirements is operating to its full potential.'

The latest generation of heating and hot water appliances offer greater flexibility than ever before, and technologies such as gas absorption heat pumps and CHP can be combined with a boiler to enhance overall efficiency.

For Geoff, using an intelligent control system to strategically spread the load across these technologies will be the key to curbing emissions.

However, the outlook for the sectorn in the coming years is far from certain. Geoff believes that, if forecasts prove to be true, then public spending will remain restrained for two or three years. However, private industry is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

'One way we are achieving success in this area is due to the increasing desire for centralised heating systems and heat distribution units, which has helped bring commercial heating products into domestic dwellings.

Centralised plants

'Having learnt valuable lessons from early district heating arrangements, private housing providers are now considering centralised plants as alternatives to individual heating systems where the density of heat usage makes a new scheme practical and cost effective.

'With modern equipment helping prevent heat losses and leakages, other driving factors behind this resurgence also include the need for the private industry sector to demonstrate their green credentials by delivering heat as efficiently as possible, whilst reducing CO2 emissions at the same time.'

Geoff believes that having this degree of flexibility is an attractive proposition for local authorities, as when they install district heating pipes based on the technology they happen to be using at the time, they can be rest assured that they will easily be able to upgrade the system in time to incorporate the most efficient and appropriate heating solutions available - for example, with renewable and hybrid technologies.

'Today's district heating schemes can work by distributing heat generated by a centralised plant room to individual properties via Heat Distribution Units (HDU), which provide the end user with both space heating via radiators and instantaneous hot water.

'Having not been an option during the previous wave of district heating installations decades ago, the HDUs available on today's market have been specifically designed to keep efficiency to a maximum when fuelled by a centralised source.

'For those organisations looking to keep a close eye on usage, the option of a heat meter can prove a useful way of managing costs, monitoring usage and allowing individual dwellings to be charged for the energy they use.'

Priority to minimise costs

Energy bills continue to rise so, with the advances in high efficiency heating and hot water technologies, the upgrading of dated equipment has never been more prevalent. While rising fuel prices may have raised the profile of the issues surrounding the need for efficient heating technologies, efficient heating should always be considered a priority for businesses keen to minimise costs and carbon emissions.

Geoff concludes: 'By introducing schemes such as the CRC and Renewable Heat Incentive, the Government has laid down the foundations for a greener future across the commercial and industrial sectors. This offers a number of opportunities for Bosch Commercial and Industrial Heating to expand and diversify its offering, not to mention maintain and strengthen its core business.

'It's important that these exciting opportunities are acted upon in a planned and well-considered manner, which is something I feel we are extremely well placed to do.'
10 September 2013

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