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Time to challenge received wisdom on green issues

For our ecosystem to survive, we need to act fast. In a double dip recession, the only real option lies in energy efficiency measures, says Mark Northcott
At the end of this summer's Rio+20 world summit on sustainable development, cynics questioned the willingness of some businesses to put the sustainability of our ecosystem before their own profitability, arguing that for a business, the bottom line matters more than its products, services and customers. Businesses will no doubt respond that they will be subjected to mandatory greenhouse gas reporting and are calling for still tighter regulations. What is clear is that the commercial world needs to act fast to protect our future.

How then to become more sustainable? Back in 1987, the seminal Brundtland Report defined sustainability as matching 'the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'

Concerns about climate change and global warming were as real then as they are now. Yet, despite our green talk, we continue to waste vast amounts of energy with disastrous consequences.

However committed businesses are to preventing climate change through green operation, it is disingenuous to dismiss the importance of profitability to their practice. The soaring price of fuel, however, does act as a spur to reducing energy bills and therefore energy use.

With heating and hot water alone accounting for nearly half the UK energy use, around forty per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions, and costing us over £33 billion this year alone according to DECC, it makes financial sense to examine more sustainable and cost effective sources of energy for heating.

Sustainable energy has two pillars: renewable energy and energy efficiency. The coalition Government's initial response to global warming was to set the nation two ambitious targets: become a low carbon nation by 2050, and double our use of renewable energy to 15 per cent from 2020. Increasing our supply of energy from renewable sources and improving the technology that allows us to do this is essential for future generations.

However, renewable technologies require significant financial investment and the payback period is long, making them less viable in the current economic climate. They are also largely dependent on public grants such as the RHI, therefore not financially sustainable. Furthermore, renewable energy cannot support our current demand for energy, accounting for just 3.8 per cent of our energy consumption in 2011 as stated in a recent report by DECC.

To live a truly sustainable life, we would need to alter our lifestyles and drastically reduce our energy consumption. There is no getting away from the fact that gas will be our main source of fuel for the next 40 to 50 years.

The answer must be to use our remaining fuel reserves more sparingly. Right now, alongside encouraging the uptake of renewable energy technologies, we need to bridge the coming energy gap through energy efficient measures.

Energy efficiency is an effective, affordable and sustainable approach to protecting our ecosystem and our coffers. Improving the energy efficiency of a heating system not only requires relatively low upfront costs but produces significant energy and greenhouse gas savings. The UK is renowned for having some of the leakiest buildings in Europe so insulation would be the starting point. Then there are controls: putting the right controls on a heating system is essential to maximising its efficiency.

Refurbishing an old heating system offers even greater savings and is often the only affordable and replicable option, given the UK's high percentage of old building stock. Old boilers are extremely wasteful; upgrading to a high efficiency boiler would cut fuel costs by up to 50 per cent and reduce CO2 and NOx emissions by at least 90 per cent.

New heating systems incorporating heat recovery units offer even higher attainable efficiencies (in the case of our own Remeha Quinta Eco Plus 97 per cent GCV at 82/71 deg C flow and return temperatures). So, they deliver £97 of actual usable energy for every £100 of gas input on existing real time systems and installations, bringing maximum fuel and carbon savings with rapid payback.

UK businesses and organisations look to the heating industry for advice on how to meet both environmental commitments and profitability targets through energy efficiency. At Remeha Commercial, we believe that the manufacturer's role here is key. As the experts on our own products, manufacturers need to support consultants and contractors more in the specification process.

Too many heating systems do not operate at their maximum efficiency levels, a problem which can be resolved by manufacturers working more closely with consultants on system design. In this double dip recession, manufacturers can also assist contractors in recommending the appropriate products or systems that deliver the most usable energy for a project within the budgetary requirements.

Some manufacturers may also offer financing schemes for approved energy efficiency products to ease the initial outlay.

Typically, payments are offset against the energy savings so that the products not only pay for themselves in the first year or so but continue to produce savings on a yearly basis.

Now is not the time to stand still. We must continue to innovate, continue to challenge existing conventional heating efficiencies.

The author is managing director of Remeha Commercial
6 August 2012

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