Green Deal

Introduced in 2013, it was heralded as the biggest programme of housing improvement since the second world war.

As a government-backed scheme, it was set up to provide loans to households to facilitate energy efficiency improvements.

The Green Deal loans gave a source of finance that differed significantly from bank loans or other forms of credit. Rather than the outstanding loan debt being placed on the homeowner or householder, it was placed upon the property and designed to be recouped through future energy bills.

An energy assessment to clarify what energy saving measures were appropriate for the property was required in order to access the funding.

As a safeguard against high energy bills, it was implemented in a way that the loan repayments should never exceed the savings in energy provided by the improvements.

These improvements included such items as new boilers, double glazing, solid wall insulation and solar panels.

The Green Deal loans carried with them interest rates ranging from 7.9% to 10.3% and the loans were intended to spread repayment over 10 to 25 years. There was a one-off loan set up fee of £63 and a £20 annual finance fee.

Following its introduction, the government expected that The Green Deal would be extremely popular. Britain’s housing stock was regarded as the worst in Europe in terms of energy efficiency. And although newer properties were being built with a greater emphasis on incorporating energy efficiency measures, older housing had insulation and heating systems that were woefully inadequate.

Rising energy costs and unstable world economies meant that Britain had to do something to use fuel more efficiently. Rather than address the issues that were compounding rising energy costs, the government sought to push the burden of improving poor housing onto the energy consumer.

However, problems started to arise. Getting an initial energy assessment took time and waiting lists developed. There was confusion in relation to who was authorised to carry out the improvement measures, and how the energy companies could also act as repayment collection agents.

Unscrupulous installers came onto the scene, carrying out improvements prior to assessments, getting householders to pay up front with the promise of obtaining later Green Deal funding.

However, perhaps the biggest concern of most potential Green Deal householders was the fact that although the home improvement measures might see their energy usage fall, it would be many years before they started saving money.

Another problem was that energy usage varied between families due to their own particular behaviours. Perhaps the best way of saving energy was for householders to look at the way they were using energy. As a result, many energy users simply modified their energy usage, cutting back to reduce bills. This of course was and still is, a problem for energy suppliers whose profits started to be affected.

A final problem was that many householders felt that although having an energy efficient home might attract a buyer in the future, having the burden of efficiency measure repayments collected on future bills by a new homeowner might not do.

Faced with disappointing take-up, the Government took the decision to effectively scrap the scheme. In July 2015.

The National Audit Office conducted an independent audit. Its findings, published in April 2016, revealed the Green Deal loan scheme only funded 1% of energy efficient measures. It also found that the scheme saved only negligible amounts of CO2 and that households did not see these loans as an attractive proposition.

It also found that the scheme cost British taxpayers nearly £400m and did not deliver energy or carbon savings.

The few people that did enter the scheme are left with the legacy of outstanding loans continually being collected through their energy bills. Initially, the loans carried penalties for early settlement of the debt.

In May 2014, the Green Deal Finance Company announced that it was cancelling early repayment fees for new loans. For those who entered the scheme prior to that, the loans can be paid off, but will occur a fee if the loan was for a sum greater than £8000 and over more than a 15 yr period. Loans of less than £8000 and for less than 15 yrs do not incur early repayment fees.

Following the decision to close the scheme, the Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, said she was seeking funding for a new scheme for energy efficiency funding in Autumn 2015. This was then postponed until early this year. That has now been postponed until 2017 at the earliest.

With the prospect of any future energy efficiency projects aimed at homeowners looking doubtful, it is unlikely that those who are able to pay upfront for improvements are likely to be concerned. For those seeking finance, there are many deals that offer a far better package than the Green Deal did with all its complexities.

It may be that with rising concern about the plight of those living in fuel poverty, the Government will continue to focus its projects solely in favour of them.

DIY Plumbing and Pollution

One of the greatest eureka moments in human history was the discovery that many diseases were contracted by people drinking contaminated water supplies.

These horrible diseases plagued our early towns and cities and were compounded by the lack of sanitation and the fact that human activity created waste compounds that were not being correctly disposed of. Blood and waste products from animal slaughter, toxins and heavy metals produced by manufacturing processes and the faecal and food waste products from human habitation trickled through open street troughs and into the nearest river or watercourse. These same watercourses provided much of the drinking water the inhabitants who could not afford cheap ale were forced to drink.

Life expectancy was short and early childhood mortality was the norm.

Today, things are much different. Sewage and other foul water wastes are carefully directed along dedicated pipe networks to vast treatment plants. Here they are carefully treated to clean out most of the harmful components before they are allowed to enter streams, rivers and oceans.

Surface water from roofs and other surfaces are kept separate and, because of their relative cleanliness, directed straight into streams and other watercourses where they become diluted and rendered harmless.

All very notable and efficient. Or is it?

Unfortunately, too much material that should be sent into the sewage system for treatment is currently being wrongly directed into the surface water system. Although not entirely the cause of the problem, much of the blame is being placed at the door of over enthusiastic DIY operatives who incompetently plumb appliance’s wastewater discharge pipes into the wrong drain. Dishwashers, washing machines, baths and sinks, even toilets can inadvertently have their waste flushed into the wrong pipe.

This rise in DIY activity is believed to be one of the contributing factors. The proliferation of daytime TV DIY and house renovation programmes seems to have spurred an increase in inexperienced householders keen to save money by carrying out their own installations and home improvement work. This, coupled with the recession, which has deterred people from moving house and motivated them to alternatively embark on home improvement projects instead, has compounded the problem.

Today, the ease at which DIY appliances, fittings and other components and tools can be sourced, and the relatively cheap price of these items, has made DIY a leisure activity for many.

The recession has also meant that affording the services of qualified trades people has become increasingly beyond the financial means of many householders.

As a result, more and more effluent and other toxic substances are finding their way into the wrong drains and subsequently directly into the natural water systems.

DEFRA predicts that by 2017, over half a million properties in the UK will have misconnected and technically illegal drainage connections installed. Currently, in some areas, one in five households is known to have incorrectly plumbed drainage systems.

The damage caused to the environment is substantial. The decomposing material in rivers and seas removes oxygen from the water. This suffocates fish and encourages eutrophication, or the proliferation of algae, which forms dense blankets on water surfaces cutting out sunlight. Salmon, perch, pike and trout all succumb to this unnatural imbalance created by the disruption of normal environmental processes.

Toxic chemicals can cause undesirable mutations in wildlife. The endocrine disrupters released from contraceptive pills and flushed directly into clean watercourses can cause gender alterations in fish and other aquatic life.

However, not all problems are caused by hapless DIY operatives.

Too often toxic materials are deliberately discarded into drains, particularly street drains. Oil, antifreeze, and other motoring products are often flushed directly into them by inconsiderate vehicle owners.

The increase in the construction of external hardcover surfaces prevents natural drainage and following a rain downpour, water, and the debris collected on these surface gushes into storm drains, causing considerable pollution.

Not only is a polluted water course unattractive, the smell of decomposing organic material coupled with the myriad of unexpected chemical reactions that may occur can be quite unpleasant for neighbouring households.

So concerned are various environmental groups about this growing problem, that many are now monitoring watercourses to detect sewage contamination. Dyes can be added to pipe networks to discover the origins of contamination points.

Fly populations that inhabit waterside environments are being monitored to detect alterations in normal populations caused by trace contaminants. When detected, the Environment Agency is informed. The Agency is then obliged to carry out further investigations to try to determine the source of the problem before it becomes a serious issue.

The government has also set up the Connect Right campaign. This body provides information and advice to homeowners and developers about connecting appliances to the correct drainage system. It also provides links to accredited Water Safe plumbing engineers. These plumbers and fitters have the relevant experience and the technical understanding of environmental issues to ensure that any work is correctly undertaken.

Homeowners with older properties are also recommended to have their drainage systems regularly checked to ensure correct operation. Deterioration of older pipe-work can cause seepage of contaminants into the wider environment causing harm to wildlife and human populations alike.

For homeowners and DIY enthusiasts, taking care to ensure that drainage systems are correctly identified prior to embarking on installations will help to reduce the problems associated with incorrect connection issues.

Where any plumbing work lies beyond the scope or experience of the householder, employing a professional and competent plumber will ensure that our natural habitats remain as unaffected by human activity as is possible.

What is a Passivhaus?

If you are like me, you have probably become very energy conscious. Conscious about the increasing cost, conscious about the environmental impact of obtaining energy and using it and conscious of not being able to afford to use it, full stop.

It was interesting to note that British Gas recently reported a fall in fuel demand for last winter. They attributed this to a mild winter. I do not recall the winter as being particularly mild. Rather it being not as cold as some. Winter is generally cold.

I doubt I am alone when I really do have to consider very carefully when, or indeed, if, I turn on the central heating at all.

Current energy policy in the UK seems to focus on supplying a potential for increasing energy consumption through investment in renewables and the development of controversial energy techniques such as fracking.

Increasing domestic energy costs to fund the development of intermittent energy sources and the exploitation of ever-diminishing fossil fuel reserves, may have the undesirable effect of reducing domestic energy consumption.

This causes untold misery for countless households that have little alternative other than to live in buildings that, by design, are not particularly energy efficient. Even new homes that are being built today and marketed as zero carbon are still significantly less energy efficient than a Passivehause.

A Passivehause, or passive house, uses innovate design and building materials to minimise energy consumption, reducing it to almost negligible levels whilst maintaining enhanced comfort levels within the building.

First developed in Germany in the 1990′s, a Passivehause works with its environment rather than imposing upon it. The building is specifically designed to be rigorously energy efficient. This allows it to conserve heat rather than relying on a constant supply of energy to maintain a comfortable living environment.

Building a Passivehause requires a complete shift in the current and traditional approach to building design and construction methods. Each passivehause must be individually designed from the ground up, and it must also take into account its location and the surrounding environment.

Using intelligent design in conjunction with a specialised computer software package, The Passive Hause Planning Package (PHPP), building designers and architects can fine-tune their designs.

Imputing various characteristics into the programme helps the designer to manipulate and modify the structure to maximise the energy efficiency of the building.

Although there are no set standards that must be adhered to, a Passivehause relies on a set of voluntary performance standards that accommodate many different ways of meeting the criteria for the Passivehause classification.

The design of the building requires that no thermal bridges are present in the construction. Thermal bridges conduct internal temperatures to the external environment and vice-versa.

Window construction must be of a superior design, typically triple glazed, filled with argon or krypton gas and the frames bonded into specialised insulation material to prevent heat transfer. The windows must provide a U-value of less than 0.8.

The building has to be encased in a quality insulation material, usually 300mm thickness and the building must be built to create an airtight internal environment. Some specialist insulation materials contain internal air pockets that enhance the insulation capabilities.

The building must optimise the heat from the sun and retain it along with heat generated by the activities of the occupants.

Ventilation is provided through a manual ventilation heat recovery system (MVHR) which must reclaim a minimum of 80% of the heat from extracted air and transfer that heat back to incoming air via the heat exchanger.

In order to meet the standards required for a building to be classed as a Passivehause, the heating requirement of the building must not exceed 15kWh/m/yr. In comparison, the maximum heat requirement set for a zero carbon new home for 2016 is 46kWh/m/yr.

The air changes in a Pasivehause must not exceed 0.6 times the entire house volume in one hour.

Consequently, the complete heat requirement of a Passivehause can be met by a small space heater supplied by a ground source heat pump and supplemented by solar energy. However, supplementary heat can be provided by gas boilers so long as the maximum kWh requirements are not exceeded.

Of course, each building will have different requirements dependent on the position of the building and the environment in which it is built. Building a Pasivehause at a latitude above the 60 line (London 51L) will increase costs due to greater insulation requirements and added design features such as underground heat storage facilities. This underground facility can reverse the conventional ground source heat pump technology to conserve summer heat for winter usage and vice-versa.

In general, the basic design and building costs are increased by at least 10% above conventional building costs. However, considerably more time is spent in the design process than current buildings require. Construction time is often minimised by the utilisation of pre-fabricated components.

Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of a Passivehause is the required change in the of the behaviour of the occupants. Any desire to open windows, such as for sleeping at night time has to be removed.

Once built, a Passivehause cannot be modified by expanding it, or by building extensions to it. Even fitting a satellite dish would seriously interfere with the structure by creating a thermal bridge. The occupants need to treat the building as a machine and co-exist with it.

Although not a particularly practical idea from a construction and financial position, it is possible to achieve Passivehause status in the renovation of an existing property, but in general, it is more economical to plan and develop one from scratch.

Nevertheless, as an alternative solution to energy concerns, a Passivehause construction produces superior comfort living environments for occupants at miserly energy consumption levels.

Passivehause status can be confirmed and certified by the Passivehause Institute following subjecting the property to a number of tests, but in practice, few Passivehause owners require that confirmation.

The principles utilised in domestic Passivehause construction can also be transferred into the design and construction of industrial facilities.

Great news for energy consumers, bad news for energy suppliers and governments.


Gas-Fired Absorption Heat Pumps

Whilst high-efficiency gas condensing boilers are currently the norm for new domestic water-heating installations, an attractive alternative is currently under development.

Heat pumps, in general, have slowly gained acceptance in the UK. The practice of extracting ambient heat energy from the environment and then concentrating it into a usable heat source has been around for many years. However, in the early days, the size of the equipment required for the process limited its application to the heating of commercial or large building structures.

Gradually, technological advancements enabled the size of the installations to be dramatically reduced, making them suitable for domestic utilisation. The move towards promoting renewable energy alternatives ensured that the uptake of heat pumps and the research into more efficient systems continued.

Vapour compression heat pumps are now becoming widely used in domestic situations to provide under-floor heating and supplement domestic hot water supply systems.

Although the installation of vapour compression heat pumps marks a considerable leap forward in attitudes towards reducing CO2 emissions and reducing fossil energy consumption, there has still been a level of concern about the use of HFC refrigerants as the internal heat transfer medium. Concerns about the escape of HFC compounds into the atmosphere have acted as a deterrent when considering the installation of heat pumps.

In addition, the need to compress refrigerants in vapour compression heat pumps requires electricity to operate a compressor. This reduces the overall energy efficiency factor.

Vapour compression heat pumps are designed to provide lower temperature background heating through a large surface area heating element that heats from ground level upwards.

Conversely, a condensing boiler produces high-temperature water that circulates through the relatively small surface area of radiant and convection heat emitters.

What is needed is a heat pump that can extract sufficient heat from the external ambient environment and convert it into a high-temperature energy source. This could provide copious domestic hot water at the required temperature plus enough surplus heat to power the installed central heating system.

Gas fired heat pumps are likely to provide the solution. They have been used extensively to heat large buildings. Now they are being developed and pioneered as the appliance that could consign condensing gas boilers to history.

Unlike their vapour compression counterparts, gas fired heat pumps use natural gas as a heat source to drive an extremely efficient heat collection and transfer system.

The principle at the heart of gas-fired heat pumps is the process of using a generator-absorber heat exchange cycle.

In this cycle, ammonia is used as a refrigerant or generator, and water acts as an absorber in the process.

A gas burner heats a water and ammonia solution contained within a closed loop system. This evaporates the ammonia, which turns to a gas. The ammonia gas under pressure passes into a condenser. In condensing, it releases heat, which is recovered to supply the domestic system. In condensing, it also becomes low-pressure ammonia in a liquid form. This liquid ammonia needs to evaporate and to do so; it draws heat from the ambient external air. In doing so, it becomes absorbed back into the water and returns to being a water-ammonia solution. This continual process powers the operation acting as a pump.

Because of this mode of operation, the system has no moving mechanical parts. This means that maintenance is negligible. It also means that the system operates quietly and unobtrusively.

The heat recovered from this process is considerably higher than the gas heat input required to operate the burner. The process delivers hot water in excess of 65 degrees centigrade. This is quite adequate for all domestic requirements.

The advantage over a condensing boiler is that the hot water has been produced by using a fraction of the amount of gas that a condensing boiler would use to provide the same heat output. Where condensing boilers are described as being up to eighty percent efficient, gas-fired heat pumps offer an efficiency factor of around one hundred and forty percent. The cost savings in energy consumption are therefore quite significant and it is hoped that the installation of a gas-fired heat pump will pay for itself within five years.

Even though the performance of gas-fired heat pumps is affected by changes in the external ambient temperature, they can still operate quite effectively at sub-zero temperatures.

It is possible to reverse the process to supply a highly efficient cooling system that can be operated during the hotter months of summer.

Although they can be used to extract heat from a ground source and other environmental heat retaining mediums, gas fired heat pumps are particularly suited to collecting heat from the air. As such, they are designed to be sited externally. The new versions starting to enter the domestic market can be freestanding or attached to the building.

It is hoped that eventually they will provide a suitable replacement for condensing boilers that have come to the end of their working life.

Because of the high heat output and the method of operation, gas fired heat pumps can be plumbed into any already installed heating system. It is likely that they will eventually form part of the ongoing process of the retrofitting of technological advances in the manufacture of water heating and control systems into existing installations.

Gas fired heat pumps are still in the process of further development. It is likely that as time progresses, purchase and installation costs will reduce and heat transfer efficiency will increase. However, gas-fired heat pumps are likely to rapidly become the accepted replacement for condensing boilers.




Micro CHP Boilers

So. You’ve just upgraded your old central heating boiler to a brand new, highly efficient condensing combi boiler and you’re feeling pretty good about it. It came with an excellent warranty and service package and you’ve been advised that the central heating, the remote access control system and the sophisticated programming features are all examples of the latest technology.

Then your neighbour gleefully informs you that he is planning to install a micro CHP system. This naturally deflates your buoyant demeanour and sends you scurrying to the internet to see what advantages your neighbour might be obtaining.

Combined heat and power (CHP) boilers have been around since the 1970s. Due to their size, weight, cost and operating noise, they have generally only been suitable for industrial and large communal facilities. They have been installed to primarily generate electricity, usually by internal combustion engines and dynamos, with the secondary heat by-product being utilised for central heating purposes.

In recent years, technological advances, spurred on by rising energy costs, have enabled the concepts of the commercial CHP boilers to be adapted for domestic operation. These new compact and vastly superior devices are referred to as micro CHP boilers.

Although much of the technology is still in the developmental field, some micro CHP boilers are available on the market.

Current models are similar in size to a large domestic condensing boiler and are wall mounted. They are also plumbed into the central heating system in much the same way. They do require installation by a Gas Safe engineer and a Micro-generation Certification Scheme (MCS) approved installer. What makes domestic micro CHP boilers special is that in producing heat for domestic hot water and central heating, they also use the heat to generate electricity for the home. Any surplus electricity is then directed back into the grid. The boiler owner receives a payment for the electricity produced for domestic use and also a payment for surplus electricity fed back into the grid.

At first sight, it can all appear very attractive, and no doubt, the neighbour has seen this as an opportunity too good to miss.

There can be no doubt that electricity produced from a remote power station is a dirty, inefficient fuel. Only about 30% of the energy from the source fuel is actually available to the consumer. The rest is lost in production and supply.

Being able to produce electricity at the point of usage has great advantages and can provide energy efficiency levels in excess of 90%.

The vast majority of micro CHP models currently available employ the actions of a Stirling engine to generate electricity. Stirling engines are classed as external combustion engines. They utilise the properties of internal chambers filled with a gas, usually helium. This gas is responsive to areas of hot and cold within the chambers. Applying heat to the gas causes alternating pressures as it moves to a colder area, and vice-versa. This movement operates a displacer and piston. The piston moves up and down inside a copper coil at around fifty times a second to produce electricity, which is fed into the domestic electrical supply.

The Stirling engine generates about 1 kW of electricity as it operates.

Because these boilers use gas in a very controlled and efficient manner, the general idea is that the Stirling engine should operate continuously using small amounts of gas to efficiently generate electricity, and supplement the domestic central heating and hot water supply, with a boost heating facility to raise the hot water system to demand levels.

Every electrical kW produced and used by domestic consumption receives a payment from the energy supplier. This acts as an inducement to produce electricity and as a payment for not using the supplier’s inefficient electricity source. On top of that, any surplus electricity is directed back into the grid and receives a FIT payment (the Feed In Tariff) from the provider for each kW produced. The micro CHP boiler must be installed correctly by an MCS installer to qualify.

So where are the pitfalls?

The major drawback is the cost. Currently, purchase and installation costs are in excess of £5000. The life expectancy of models on the market is around ten years. With gas and electricity fuel prices so volatile, it becomes difficult trying to assess whether, or when, the capital expenditure and the interest payments on any financial assistance packages would justify installation.

There have been calls for a substantial increase in the FIT to make installation of micro CHP boilers more attractive, but as yet, there has been no movement on that proposal. As such, any financial advantages are likely to be very modest over the long term.

Perhaps the main obstacle for installing current micro CHP boilers is the situation in a potential buyer’s home.

Householders have responded favourably to Government incentives and environmental concerns over recent years. They have improved insulation and many have installed a variety of heat saving devices. Some have adopted technologies that supplement heat requirements with heat recovered through accumulators.

The amount of gas that is required to heat a well-adapted home is now significantly less than in previous times.

However, demand for electricity is increasing. Households now require constant electricity, not constant heat.

The 1 kW electrical output of a micro CHP boiler with the current FIT and kW subsidy does not make the installation of the boiler a realistic proposal at the moment.

The future for micro CHP boilers is, though, looking good. Manufacturers are developing superior alternatives to Stirling engines. Ceres are developing fuel cell technologies that will revolutionise domestic heat and electrical production. Within these fuel cells, heat and electricity can be generated without combustion removing all the problems associated with it.

Hydrogen cells are being developed to utilise the energy produced by micro CHP boilers and other green energy generating technologies. Hydrogen can be produced by surplus electrical activity and then used to generate electricity again at peak demand.

These green and clean modifications incorporated into, or complimenting micro CHP systems will make installation more of an attractive proposition in the future. The electrical kW output produced is much greater. Already the major energy companies are voicing disquiet about the possibility and implications of millions of micro energy producers feeding surplus energy back into the grid. And with some justification!

Perhaps lots of micro energy producers supplying a local network might be the answer to the ailing, aging and costly grid network, in addition to the public’s growing disquiet about the energy company’s extortionate energy generating profits.

In the meantime, compliment your neighbour for considering becoming a torchbearer and protagonist of nascent technologies.


Gas and other Energy Saving Tips

Although recent world-wide gas and oil commodity prices have seen unprecedented falls, as North Sea gas supplies start to dwindle and the United Kingdom is obliged to compete with a growing demand for gas on the global markets, it would seem that the long term outlook for household energy bills is likely to forecast sharp price increases.

More and more, householders are being forced to examine their fuel usage and look for ways to economise and live within their tight budgets.

However, economizing is not necessarily a euphemism for austerity. On the contrary, it is more about using energy sources wisely and efficiently. It is about extracting as much benefit as possible from each hard-earned pound spent on fuel and minimising expensive waste.

It can also be quite encouraging, especially when using energy usage monitors. It is very satisfying to watch domestic fuel consumption drop in response to a few minor changes to the home and to the occupant’s behaviour.

Energy saving appliances are all well and good but the way they are operated has a greater bearing on economy than might be imagined.

Likewise, loft and wall insulation coupled with triple glazing may help to prevent heat dissipation through the fabric of the home, but it will not prevent draughts from unshielded keyholes or open fire chimney vents from sucking that expensive heat into the cold outdoors.

So, if you have uncovered a previously boarded off fireplace and discovered a rustic Victorian cast iron focal point, make sure the chimney is capped off or buy a dedicated chimney balloon that inflates to fill the gap.

Fit letter box brushes, keyhole flaps, check door seals and ensure that the traditional wooden floorboards and old skirting boards that have been revealed to add character to your home are sealed to plug gaps. Warm coloured fitted carpets are good insulators. Seal the gaps where pipe-work exits through walls, however, take care not to block any air vents.

Good, heavy and thickly lined curtains, properly hung, are excellent insulators but during even the coldest day, the sun is a great source of extraneous heat so let the sunshine in.

Fitting reflective foil behind radiators can prevent heat being lost through walls behind them.

Move furniture around so that you are not sitting next to exterior walls.

A tropical living environment is great for shorts, T-shirts, iced beer and lethargy, but not so forgiving on the household fuel budget. Thermals, chunky polo neck sweaters and cups of steaming tea are far more nostalgic, as is dropping the thermostat a few degrees to bring back an equally nostalgic and retro style fuel bill.

A cool bedroom is great for a good night’s sleep. An electric under blanket ensures a cosy bed to fall into no matter how cold the weather is outside.

Upgrade central heating controls and install a multi-function programmer for a more dedicated system of home heating management.

Gas as a fuel is considerably cheaper than electricity. Solar, wind and heat accumulation sources are currently free. It is therefore advantageous to invest in technology to exploit these natural resources to compliment gas and electrical energy consuming appliances.

When cooking on a gas or electric hob, anything cooking in boiling water is immersed in that liquid at 100C. It does not matter how high you turn up the regulator setting, the water in the pan will never rise higher than boiling point.
Any extra heat surplus to that required to maintain a gentle, rolling boil is energy wasted. A flame or heat source that extends beyond the circumference of the base of the pan is also wasted energy. Make sure the gas flame is crisp and blue. Yellow colours indicate inefficient combustion.

Pilot lights can use 40% more energy than electronic ignition.

Putting lids on pans and using pressure cookers saves time and energy usage. Try turning off cooking appliances a few minutes before food is ready and allow cooking to continue on the residual heat. Oven doors rack up the running costs when opened frequently during cooking. A quick peek can drop the oven temperature by 20%. Keeping the glass viewing front clean will prevent the need to open the oven door.

Likewise, excessive opening of fridge and freezer doors when pondering or grazing, gnaws away at energy efficiency targets.

Low flow shower heads and reduced time showering can make a big difference to hot water usage. So can fixing dripping hot taps or refraining from washing and rinsing under a flowing hot tap.

Washing machines will now operate effectively at much lower temperatures due to the introduction of low temperature washing detergents. A full load is the most economical way of operating the machine.

If a hot water cylinder is installed in the property, setting the thermostat to 50C can usually satisfy the temperature requirement of the domestic hot water supply. An adequately insulated cylinder will also conserve the temperature of the heated water.

Keeping the boiler and central heating system in top condition is a must for ensuring gas is utilised efficiently. Anything that impedes the efficiency of the system is likely to reflect quite dramatically on the energy bill. Small inefficiencies combine over a short period to inflate energy costs and most of these can be rectified or eliminated quite easily.

Reducing energy costs can become a healthy compulsion and with practice, may eventually lead to the disconnection of the energy monitor itself, thus saving a few operating watts of electricity and representing the epitome of gas and energy efficiency.

Central Heating Thermostats

Energy efficiency is the greatest objective of nearly every environmental and cost conscious household today. Achieving that objective requires the installation of appliances and complimentary devices, which conserve heat, prevent heat loss and extract the maximum amount of output from the minimum amount of input.

From the perspective of looking at achieving greater boiler efficiency, it is interesting to examine how introducing complimentary devices improves the overall operation of the boiler and system.

Modern condensing gas boilers are extremely efficient at producing hot water for heating and domestic use. They supply on demand as and when it is required. With a combi boiler, when a demand for domestic hot water creates a pressure differential in the domestic hot water supply, the boiler senses the differential and springs to life producing almost instantaneous hot water.

The boiler responds to a command.

Like a pressure differential, a thermostat provides a command. The command is either to operate the boiler or to turn the boiler off. It can also command valves to open and close.

Some boilers even incorporate a thermostatic control to command the boiler to operate when ambient temperatures fall below a certain level and act to prevent the boiler and its internal pipes from freezing.

A basic room thermostat will monitor the temperature of its surroundings. It can be set to operate at a certain temperature. If the temperature falls below the desired temperature, it will command the boiler to start. As the temperature rises and exceeds the desired level, the thermostat will instruct the boiler to stop.

This simplistic thermostatic operation forms the basis of controlling the environment that the boiler’s central heating facility is designed to satisfy.

It is also the regulating device that maintains an adequate supply of stored hot water in a domestic hot water cistern.

On very basic central heating systems, one wall mounted thermostatic control is fitted in a cool area of the house, for instance in a hallway, and this becomes a point of temperature reference which informs the central heating output throughout the entire house. To work efficiently, the thermostat must be placed where it cannot be affected by a direct heat source, for example, sunlight or a wall heater. From the remote point, the thermostat is wired to the boiler by discreet cabling. The recommended domestic environment temperature is between 18C and 21C. Unless individual radiators are turned off, all rooms occupied or not will be maintained at the reference temperature.

The introduction of a timer into the system can override the thermostat to disable the boiler at certain times during the day, for instance, overnight or when the house is empty during the day.

The incorporation of a timer into a thermostat provides even greater scope for environment control. Modern digital thermostats can be programmed to operate the boiler to maintain various pre-set temperatures throughout the day and on various days. For instance, the programmer may wish the central heating to come on and heat the house to 18C at 7.00 a.m. when they get up, then reduce the temperature to 14C when they leave the house for work at 9.00 a.m. They may also programme the heating to restore the heat level to 18C at 5.00 p.m. when they return from work and reduce it again to 14C when they go to bed at 11.00 p.m. They can also programme different instructions for the weekend and override all settings whenever they wish.

The installation of wireless digital thermostatic programmers enables central heating installers to add controls quickly without the need for extensive wiring. Some modern programmable devices are capable of ‘learning’ about user habits and the environment in which the device is operating. They can be programmed to provide a set temperature at a given time and they then calculate the time at which the boiler should be commanded to operate in order to satisfy the programmer’s request. Eventually, they can formulate a programme based on the user’s preferences and no longer require programming.

Thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) added to radiators enables householders to set individual room temperatures. The valves are easy to install and can be used in any room other than that which incorporates the main thermostatic control device. These devices require no operating power source and work very efficiently by controlling the rate of flow into, and, therefore, the heat output, from the radiator. They are good at regulating temperatures in rooms where extraneous heat sources, like direct sunlight, heat a room at the front or back of the house whilst other shaded rooms are cooler. They do not work efficiently where radiators are housed in screens or when obstructions are placed in front of the thermostats impeding airflow around the device.

Thermostats, which control motorised valves, can regulate the flow of central heating fluid to various areas and rooms in the house. Three-port valves can supply both the central heating and the domestic hot water supply at the same time.

Advances in thermostatic control have led to the development of Remote Energy Management devices that enable householders to set, programme and monitor their heating systems from almost anywhere in the world. The thermostatic device is connected to the home broadband network allowing Wi-Fi access via smartphone, tablet or P.C. by the householder when they are away from home.

As further advances in technology provide greater control over heat and energy management, the opportunity of benefits to consumers will continue to increase.

Remote Diagnostic Boilers

Imagine getting a phone call from your gas supplier informing you that your boiler has been talking to them.

Your boiler has advised them that although it is working satisfactorily at the moment, it is, nonetheless, in imminent danger of a catastrophic breakdown. Consequently, they need to send their engineer around to replace a part. The boiler has informed them which part it requires and they just need to arrange a convenient time to pop round and fit it.

Now. Does that increase your comfort level, or reduce it?

Of course, the self-diagnostic capability of appliances and machinery is nothing new. You probably encounter it when you take your car for a service and the garage simply connects your vehicle to a laptop computer. From this, they can detect most faults and also ensure that the mechanics and electrics are all running efficiently.

If you have a modern, top of the range domestic gas boiler you may well have seen a gas engineer carrying out a similar process.

The boiler’s ability to interact with technology is nothing new. Boilers, sensors, programmers and timers have all been interacting together in the home for many years. The practice of remotely communicating with the domestic boiler has already become well established. A growing number of householders are controlling their heating via smartphone and android gadgets. These devices utilise broadband technology to monitor and adjust boiler function and household temperature settings from almost anywhere in the world. Not surprisingly, adjustments to the householder’s heating controls are now often made from an armchair in the home and sent over a few thousand miles of networks and satellite connections to a receiver a few feet away.

But this next step forward in communication with a remote central monitoring facility, which can be hundreds of miles away, is already past the development stage and being trialled by one major energy supplier.

Remote Appliance Diagnostics Systems or RADS for short are being heralded as the next great innovation to revolutionise boiler operation for householders. Offering a sophisticated electronic control and monitoring service through a remote diagnostics centre, it is claimed that these devices will maximise comfort and efficiency for boiler owners.

There is no doubt that the early identification of impending boiler problems will provide an extra level of confidence for households, particularly during the winter months. Nobody welcomes an unexpected boiler breakdown in the middle of winter.

There are other benefits too. Most boiler owners are familiar with the situation where an engineer has been called out to investigate the cause of a malfunctioning boiler. The diagnosis usually requires a considerable amount of time fiddling with the boiler’s internal components and a certain amount of head scratching. Inevitably, the engineer comes to a conclusion which usually centres on the recommendation of the fitting a new part. Fitting the part is a straightforward procedure. Ordering and getting the part is another matter.

With RADS, a remote diagnosis should ensure that the engineer arrives pre-supplied with the necessary components.

Through a RADS system, the boiler will be in what is referred to as ‘real-time’ contact with the remote monitoring centre. Real-time is one of those phrases that sound high-tech, but simply means connected to and maintaining a regular contact with the centre. This ensures that the boiler’s operational performance can be monitored for unusual working behaviour patterns. This monitoring will eventually produce a boiler behaviour history, which, when combined with information from maintenance and repair history, will provide valuable information for analytics and engineers.

When an actual or potential malfunction is detected by the provider’s monitoring centre, the centre alerts an engineer. Remotely, the provider’s engineer can use diagnostics software and analysis to determine the possible cause of the problem. In doing so, he can pre-source and obtain any necessary parts from the energy provider’s stores.

Meanwhile, the energy provider’s monitoring centre contacts the boiler owner to arrange a convenient time for the engineer to call. This means that the provider’s engineer can attend to the boiler at a pre-determined time, carry out a few checks to confirm the fault, and immediately install any necessary parts. This, of course, can save considerable cost and inconvenience for the householder and also improve the efficiency of the provider’s engineering department.

Many boiler manufacturers are now building boilers with this technology pre-installed in anticipation of an eventual general consumer uptake of the system. Other companies are investing in developments to provide the necessary components to allow existing boilers to be modified to function with RADS.

Along with remotely controlled and monitored smart meters, boiler-monitoring looks likely to become a normal part of an energy supplier’s service.

How far these developments will provide other additional benefits to consumers remains to be seen.

Having remote boiler diagnostics may remove the potential for intervention by the homeowner. The service provided by the energy provider will ensure that the provider’s engineers facilitate repairs and maintenance to their customer’s boilers. This will allow them to monopolise the boiler repair and maintenance trade, with the potential to affect the businesses of many small, independent boiler heating and plumbing specialists.

Along with smart meters, it could also provide a disincentive to energy customers to source competitively priced alternative energy sources and to easily switch between suppliers.

Perhaps the greatest and growing concern for homeowners is the increasing monitoring of their activity by monolithic companies who have become obsessed with collecting and analysing data connected with consumers and their behaviours. This information is often used to influence and change behaviour patterns in a manner that is beneficial to the companies who collect it, or to those who sell it on to other interested parties.

New energy heating and control technology undoubtedly brings many benefits to homeowners and their families, but when the control of that technology is removed from the homeowner, a certain amount of discomfort about the issues surrounding remotely controlled systems will have to be overcome before they are totally accepted without suspicion

Renewables and Intermittency

Energy surrounds us. Light and movement combine in a dynamic process of transforming energy from one form to another. Perhaps, like me, you can remember school physics teachers remarking that ‘energy cannot be created or destroyed; it just passes from one form to another’.

So, what is the problem with current fuel supplies?

Simple. Because of our increasing demand for energy and our over reliance on what might be still considered cheap fossil fuels, we are coming close to exhausting fossil fuel reserves altogether. We take electricity and natural gas for granted. As a minor example of a more serious and complex situation, our toys and gadgets like computers and mobile devices use little power individually. However, on a global scale, it takes the combined fuel output of several fossil fuel burning powers stations just to power the servers that supply the World Wide Web, which these devices rely on. Moreover, that does not include the power used to run the devices, the power used to create the devices and the power required to extract and purify the materials used in the devices’ construction.

Of course, fossil fuels are renewable. The problem is that they take millions of years to form and unfortunately, we cannot sit back and wait.

Nuclear fuel was once heralded as the saviour for human energy requirements, however, such salvation has not only became a nightmare regarding the security issues surrounding the storage of spent fuel, the cost of building and the short life and subsequent de-commissioning costs of nuclear power stations makes the electricity they produce very expensive indeed.

Tapping into other energy sources around us is really quite simple. However, the cost of doing so can be a disincentive without government funding.

Renewable energy sources can be divided into two categories. Intermittent supplies, such as wind, wave and solar.

Non-intermittent supplies like energy crops and biomass, methane digesters, hydroelectric and tidal barrages.

Although all of these have some characteristics that can make them either difficult or unethical for considering as large-scale energy converting systems, the intermittent types pose the greatest challenge.

Intermittent energy sources are, as their name suggests, unreliable or perhaps more appropriately, unpredictable in their output. They are what is termed ‘The Achilles’’ Heel’ of renewable energy supplies.

As such currently they can only be used viably as an addition to the energy demand as electricity supplementing the National Grid.

In looking at conventional UK human activity and power requirements, it can be seen that demand for power is lowest between 11.00 pm and 6.00 am. Energy demand increases slowly during the day and then reaches a peak between 6.00 pm and 8.00 pm. Being able to respond immediately to peaks and demands, particularly those that are unpredictable like supplying increased energy during a cold spell of weather, requires a responsive power source. Intermittent supplies cannot be turned on and off when the source of the supply is not available.

What is needed is a way of distributing renewable energy from intermittent sources in a way that can reduce or remove the intermittency factor.

Prophetic visions abound about possibilities such as global intermittent energy collection devices with energy transported around the globe as electricity on a global grid network. Daylight supplying night time areas and vice-versa with increased nigh time wind supplies. DC current replacing the problematic nature of transporting AC current over large distances. Huge global energy ‘granaries’ of harvested energy stored in batteries or as vast underground caverns of compressed air operating power station generators during peak energy demands.

In reality, and away from imaginations that are perhaps too futuristic for present immediacy, the solution to renewable energy intermittency is probably already well under development.

Energy obtained from intermittent sources can be easily and efficiently converted into hydrogen and stored under pressure as a liquid.

Hydrogen is a very clean fuel, simply converting back into oxygen and water when it is burned to release its energy.

Transporting energy as a liquid or a gas along pipe networks is a highly efficient method of moving energy across distances. There is little loss of energy, unlike the horrendous losses on electrical grid supplies.

What is more, experiments in America have concluded that mixing small amounts of hydrogen gas in with the methane gas supplying domestic and industrial usage causes no problems with appliance operation. Eventually, all appliances could be converted to run on hydrogen, even vehicles.

Surely, gas from wind power has to be the most feasible means of dealing with renewable energy intermittency. Producing hydrogen gas and circulating it through established gas networks supplying domestic users, industry and local electrical power generating stations, must be an attractive solution.

Although the exploration and extraction of shale gas may go towards supplementing and securing gas supplies in the UK, any further developments in storing intermittent renewable energy production will very likely continue to progress along hydrogen production and storage techniques to continue the UK’s utilisation of gases as a fuel source.



The concept of zoning might seem a little complex but in all probability, if your system is a conventional indirect hot water system, you probably have a simple example of a type of zoning in operation. Hot water generated by your boiler is directed to either the domestic hot water cylinder, zone one, or the central heating, zone two. In this case, a motorised diverter valve maintains the zones.

The purpose of zoning is to optimise the domestic heating system to ensure that the different areas within the house are heated only to the required level, which in certain parts might be quite infrequently or even not at all.

In a home where a single thermostat operates to control the entire heating system, the whole house will be heated to the setting on the thermostat regardless of whether all the rooms are occupied or not, or whether they are receiving supplementary heat from sunlight or cooking tasks. The thermostat will take its base setting from its location.

Many thermostats are inadvertently placed in unsuitable positions, for example in a cold hallway or a draught, and often set to achieve an almost impossibly high temperature. This can mean that no matter how hard the boiler works, it can never reach the cut off point.

In this situation, the boiler runs continuously with some rooms cool and others uncomfortably hot.

Changes to the Buildings Regulations have been introduced to reflect the importance of conserving energy by creating zones to maximise boiler efficiency. In new builds and complete installations, the directions are mandatory and in boiler replacement situations, the directions are related to good practice.

Consequently, any new system in a home that is not based on an open plan format must have at least two heating zones. These must be individually controlled by the operation of a thermostat and a zone valve. Radiators must have Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRV’s) fitted except those in rooms with a room thermostat installed and radiators and towel rails in bathrooms.

When replacing a boiler in an existing system it is now good practice to install TRV’s on all radiators, except those in rooms with a room thermostat and those in a bathroom. These should be installed whilst the system is drained down.

Although the generalised instructions in the Buildings Regulations will provide a good basic system of zoning, it is in a homeowner’s interest to plan and develop a zoning system that reflects the requirements of the house occupants.

Installing a timer in a two-zone system can control when heat is delivered to a particular zone independently of the zone thermostats. An example would be a timer, which responds to the expected household activity in the living or cooking areas of the property during the day and then redirects heat to the bedroom zone area at night.

Rather than settling for a simple two zone system, usually zone one, ground floor, and zone two second and subsequent floors, a multi zone system can be constructed to take into account the life-styles and commitments of various members of the household.

By installing motorised diverter valves, each operated by an individual thermostat and timer, zoning can be fine-tuned to allow each zone, possibly as individual rooms, to be controlled with precision. The motorised diverter valves will open and close to provide heat only when it is required. Consequently, the boiler will operate only as needed and in a controlled and efficient manner.

Motorised diverter valves can be fitted with wireless controls and can be operated and programmed along with their individual thermostats and timers from a central control programmer.

For a complete and remotely controlled system of zone and room control, TRV’s are relatively good at regulating individual radiators. They are also ideal for regulating temperatures in different areas, for example a cooler bedroom for sleeping in and a warm living area for relaxing in.

New wireless controlled examples can be remotely controlled from a central programmer, or by a remote control system.  Honeywell Evo Home has a system that can accommodate the remote control of up to twelve wireless TRV’s through its dedicated software system and hardware. A broadband connection is required.

A system called Heat Genius works in a similar fashion to Honeywell Evo Home, but has the extra option of fitting motion sensors in individual rooms and areas. This allows the system to learn about the habits of the house occupants and predict energy requirements based on this learning.

The system also has adequate provision for build and add on technology as and when it becomes available. Installing a complete Heat Genius package in an average three-bedroom property with seven radiators would cost around £800 including the individual room sensors, the TRVs and the Heat Genius Hub.

The efficiencies and controls afforded by installing the components necessary to produce effective zoning are only part of the practical tasks associated with energy saving. Much of the efficiencies these systems deliver are dependent on the energy usage and awareness of the house occupants. Without a concerted effort to minimise heat loss, use energy with efficiency in mind and learn from the limitations of the installed systems, installing technology without interacting with it is a futile waste of time and money.

Where technology and adaptable human behaviour co-operate, major savings in energy and costs can be readily achieved.