The efficient route to a sustainable future
With energy continuing to dominate the headlines and rising fuel prices an increasing concern for society at large, Mark Northcott argues that energy efficiency is the sustainable answer
JANUARY IS THE month for resolutions. If money were no object, helping to sustain the world for future generations would no doubt come high on many lists. Indeed, where energy is concerned, money is the object as rising energy bills threaten commercial profitability and employment, encouraging us to look for a more sustainable approach.
But what do we mean by sustainable energy? The word 'sustainable' combines environmental, social and economic needs, with the most popular definition coming from the 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future: 'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' When describing energy, 'sustainable' is often used as a synonym for 'renewable' although this can be misleading as sustainable energy has a second pillar: energy efficiency.
The energy question is a key cause of concern for social, environmental and financial reasons. Firstly, the rising prices - according to the National Audit Office, the UK faces as many as 17 years of above-inflation price rises to replace our energy infrastructure. This has a direct impact on both householders and businesses, with more people entering into fuel poverty and more companies struggling to remain profitable in the face of higher operating costs. Secondly, our carbon reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050 - we are in danger of exceeding our carbon budget which could result in irreparable damage to the climate. Thirdly, our national energy security - the worrying gap between our rising demand and our energy supply has prompted fears of the lights going out across Britain as our energy industry struggles to secure enough supplies to homes and businesses.
The Government says it is moving us towards a low carbon nation and preparing for our future with a balanced energy mix, yet it has shown ambiguity of late over its energy policy and support for sustainable energy. For the solution to the energy question to be truly sustainable, surely it cannot be dependent on government funding that may be removed at a later date. For businesses, the simple solution to sustainable energy must be to invest in affordable energy efficiency measures that will significantly lower energy consumption and reduce energy bills and carbon emissions.
The case for energy efficiency has never been stronger than it is today. Yet, the International Energy Agency (IEA), which named energy efficiency the world's 'first fuel' in efforts to cut carbon and promote energy security in its inaugural Energy Efficiency Market Report, claims that energy efficiency offers a huge unrealised opportunity with two thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remaining untapped to 2035.
In the UK, it is our building stock that accounts for over half our total energy use. It is crucial that we address our infamously inefficient existing buildings if we are to meet our environmental commitments and cut our energy consumption to prepare for a more sustainable future. Organisations that implement energy efficiency measures would not only improve their profitability through lower energy bills but also the public perception. New research conducted by YouGov for the Carbon Trust reveals that, while the public see business as at the heart of the economic recovery, they do not yet see business as key to fixing our environmental problems, with over two thirds of respondents unable to name a company taking the issue of environmental sustainability seriously.
For those businesses looking to improve the energy performance of their building, heating is a good starting point as it accounts for around 60 per cent of a building's total energy use. Due to the nature of existing heating systems, retrofitting a modern, clean-burning, fully-modulating condensing boiler is still the most effective, affordable and often the only means of achieving huge savings, capable of halving energy use and cutting carbon emissions by 90 per cent - and all with rapid financial payback. For organisations wishing to maximise the building's energy saving potential wherever possible, the next step would be to upgrade controls, replace the terminal unit or invest in passive energy saving technologies such as flue gas heat recovery.
This last technology, which we at Remeha Commercial call 'super condensing', is perhaps the most important technological advance since condensing boilers in improving the energy efficiency of heating in refurbishment projects. By recovering energy that would otherwise be wasted for the benefit of space heating and cold water pre-heat, it uses the energy input more effectively and profitably, thereby significantly lowering energy consumption and reducing both energy bills and carbon emissions. On refurbishment projects where even condensing boilers would struggle to achieve their maximum efficiencies, a passive flue gas heat recovery heating system can raise efficiency levels by an extra 10 to 15 per cent - the 'Holy Grail' of condensing technology.
Improved profitability, increased energy security, lower carbon emissions - is it really too much to ask? Energy efficiency measures are the most effective, practical, affordable and sustainable means of tackling rising fuel prices and fulfilling environmental commitments, particularly where heating is concerned. Quite simply, the energy efficiency route makes perfect financial, commercial and ethical sense, especially in today's economic climate. So let's make improved energy efficiency our New Year's resolution. We at Remeha Commercial look forward to working with consultants and specifiers to help businesses operate in a more energy efficient, sustainable and profitable manner for a successful 2014.
// The author is the managing director of Remeha Commercial //
22 January 2014