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By ADE Director, Dr Tim Rotheray. Originally written for Good Energy as part of their COP21 industry expert opinion series available here.
A negative decision in Paris could bring enormous changes to Britain’s political consensus, both on energy policy and its approach to the European Union, and investment certainty hangs in the balance.
We have seen quite a bit of uncertainty of late. Government changes to policies, each with its own three letter abbreviation (LECs, FITs, CCL, CCAs etc).
Some of these changes will have a major impact on UK firms but it is still, on the global stage, very parochial. After all, UK emissions are about 3% of the global total.
The one area where the UK has done something really internationally significant is passing the 2008 Climate Change Act. This law is the lynchpin of UK political consensus for acting on Climate Change at the UK level.
It is repeatedly cited by international commentators as a vanguard for climate politics.
Why the outcome matters
So what does this Act have to do with Paris? After all it is a UK law. But the outcome of the Paris climate negotiations could upend the UK energy policy consensus.
The reason is that the Act has far more 'openers' than most people realise. The carbon budgets set by the Committee on Climate Change with the required emissions cuts, can be amended by the Secretary of State if there have been 'significant developments in.... European or international law or policy'.
Simply put, a weak deal or no deal in Paris would create the opportunity to change the carbon budgets. And that would be a disaster.
In all the weathering that energy policy has taken, the Climate Change Act has stood untouched. This signal is vital for investors indicating that, whatever the colour of government, the policies may change but the direction of travel is permanent.
The door is opened to that changing if world leaders are unsuccessful in Paris.
Sending a clear signal
So from my perspective, as someone working for a more local efficient and low carbon energy system in the UK, the international talks in Paris are still vitally important.
As the UK debates how to secure energy investment and a growing call for policy stability from across the sector, a strong Paris deal to anchor the UK's consensus for decarbonising the economy will send a clear signal to the investor community.
Of course, there is a clear moral and ethical case for acting on climate change. But, a strong deal in Paris also is the necessary global framework to enable local change; aligning the macro-economic case for action with individual investment decisions.
Last week, Bill Watts at M&E practice Max Fordham wrote a passionate rant against CHP and heat networks on the Construction Manager website.
The crux of Bill’s message is that real world losses on new build projects are higher than losses calculated using manufacturers’ specs and SAP. How much higher? Bill’s not sure – he says that only ESCOs know how well or how poorly heat networks are working. But in any case “much higher than we’ve been led to believe.”
A few days after the original article appeared, Construction Manager ran a follow up piece in which people from the building industry try to rebut Bill’s argument. In general the respondents make the case that CHP and DH have an important role to play in decarbonising heat, with several highlighting that the Heat Network Code of Practice should improve the performance of new networks.
But in my view the industry respondents missed the key point.
It’s clear Bill really really dislikes heat networks. You can hear it in his melodramatic language about government seeing DH as “the panacea to all our future energy woes” or claiming that policymakers just “don’t care about costs or losses.” This is an emotional argument with few numbers to back it up.
And there’s the problem: Bill makes his argument based on dogma, not data. And if you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll know that that really gets my goat.
At this point you might say: of course he’s making an emotional appeal; with no data, what else could he do? Bill despairs that only ESCOs have data on how heat networks are performing. He laments that “if the CHP and district heating industry fails to indicate what [DH] losses are, it makes predicting the viability of these systems very difficult.”
But performance data isn’t locked up in some ESCO vault. We’re not denied access to data by the CHP and DH industry. The data is right there on site – in every heat meter in every flat. It’s in the check meters in the plant room and on network branches: a little stash of gold dust building up each day from the moment the meters are installed. Including on those heat networks designed by Fordhams, of which there are plenty.
Fordhams is “working with existing systems, designing them themselves, and reviewing reports and designs by other consultants.” How? In an information vacuum? With no clear performance targets and verified results? If the engineers are blind to how the systems perform, how on earth can they know whether their designs are any good? How can they improve?
The solution is simple: you just have to get the data out of the meters and start using it, preferably from the very first day the heat is turned on, long before commissioning and handover. The data should be used to verify that the quantifiable performance targets laid out in the spec have in fact been achieved. And all this can be done from a desk, without an engineer travelling to site!
Never mind ESCOs. Who is better placed to ensure that performance is measured and data is used to verify results than the M&E engineer, the client’s trusted advisor? Who is better placed to ensure the client got what they asked for than the good engineers at Fordhams themselves?
But instead of taking steps to measure and improve outcomes, it appears that Bill would rather throw his hands up in despair.
As Gale Snoats wisely said, I’d rather light a candle than curse your darkness. So to finish on a constructive note, here are some recommendations for any M&E engineer working on heat network projects:
- Put clear and measurable performance targets in the spec. Efficiency figures don’t make good targets. Instead use targets like bypass flow rates, flow temps and deltaT. Make sure bidding contractors know exactly what’s expected of them.
- Draw up the commissioning plan at spec stage based on your performance targets and make sure the winning contractor knows they’ll be held to it. Miss the targets? No practical completion til it’s put right.
- Make sure heat meters are installed and commissioned with a working internet connection as early in the project as possible. These meters are the foundation of your measuring system and the ADSL means you can spot problems from your desk.
- Don’t accept commissioning certificates at face value. Verify performance using system data.
- Use the data to improve your next design. Was your last network oversized? Might you have saved the client money on pipes and plant? Did you really need those bypass valves that caused such trouble? Maybe wet towel rails weren’t such a good idea. Etc.
A new report from Greenpeace shows how a tripling in fossil fuel and renewable CHP would help the UK meet its power decarbonisation goals in a way that would be technically, socially and economically viable.
The report is based on an advanced modelling process to design, test and iterate a 2030 energy scenario that can demonstrably overcome the specific technical, infrastructural and engineering problems associated with migrating to a radically decarbonised power sector.
Most importantly, the Greenpeace report shows how both fossil fuel and renewable CHP, alongside demand side management, can help deliver a nearly-decarbonised UK electricity system at least cost in 2030.
Greenpeace's scenario focuses on CHP used by community heating schemes and calls for an installed capacity of 21.5GW in 2030, 64% of DECC's technical potential estimate for 2030 and a 350% increase on today's installed capacity. In addition it assumes that 23% of this will be renewably fuelled (in comparison to 11% today). Greenpeace conclude that this contribution falls "well in line with official forecasts and expectation".
Greenpeace also recognises that while some CHP can be run flexibly, many CHP sites are heat-lead and unable to follow demand, a welcome recognition of CHP’s primary role as a heat-led technology.
A key feature of the scenario is its exclusion of CCS and a requirement for a considerable reduction in domestic heat demand (by some 57%). Each available technology is categorised into a phase. Heat led CHP would be one of the first technologies to be called upon, along with renewable generation and base load nuclear and phase one. Interestingly, the use of industrial DSM is the last method called on to balance the grid in Greenpeace's scenario. While domestic DSM is called upon in the third phase, non domestic DSM is one of the final solutions to be used, being called upon in phase five.
Demand Side Management (DSM)
The scenario favours the use of domestic demand side management enabled by the installation of smart meters. Greenpeace's decision was to explore the most onerous DSM requirement on households. Existing research suggests that frequent requests for reductions above 10% are likely to prompt a negative response from householders. Greenpeace sought to model how frequently these types of requests would be required in order to create a 'worst case scenario' for domestic DSM. By placing domestic DSM within phase three, above other solutions, householders would be required to participate much more than if they were placed at the bottom.
The report concluded that 'Prospering Suburbs household' (a detached property with an above average gas bill) would experience the most onerous participation within DSM, being required to reduce consumption by more than 10% on 4.7 % of July/August weekdays, with a further 17.2 % of those days requiring a shift in demand of less than 10%. For 'prospering suburbs household', a 10% reduction would equate to around 60 watts - the equivalent of turning off a high power laptop.
The extent of the role of non domestic DSM would be contingent on the success of the proceeding phases' technologies to balance supply and demand.
Time to tap in to an underused energy source: wasted heat
Millions of people worldwide can’t afford to keep their homes warm, but few realise the heat wasted in our energy system could provide the answer.
We need to do more to prevent valuable energy being lost to the environment as heat. It’s not just draughty buildings – power stations lose a vast amount of heat through their cooling towers or dumped into waterways, equivalent in the UK to a third of final energy use, while UK industry wastes enough heat to warm more than two million households. Storing this heat can even help us manage renewable energy – at lower cost than batteries.
A 2013 study by Buro Happold showed that tapping into the waste heat rejected into London’s environment could provide enough warmth for the whole city. What’s needed is a strategy to “join the dots” between waste heat sources and demand for heat using new infrastructure. Early initiatives are currently underway, looking to capture waste heat from the London Underground and from transformers on the power network to heat homes.
In Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, communities often share their heat sources, with customers connected to a “heat network” carrying hot water in well-insulated pipes. Instead of having boilers in individual buildings, they have heat exchangers which pass heat from pipes buried under the street outside to heating systems inside. For example, in Warsaw individual boilers were replaced with a network during post-war reconstruction leading to big reductions in local air pollution.
In the UK, cities such as Sheffield and Nottingham have pioneered these networks to distribute heat from waste incinerators. Burning off household waste produces a lot of heat, and putting this energy to use helps the cities to tackle fuel poverty and reduce their carbon footprints. Sheffield already has 50km of heat pipes in its city centre, and a new power station fuelled with locally sourced waste wood will generate renewable electricity and also energy to feed into an extended heat network.
Making energy storage easy… with heat
Industrial processes rarely produce heat at the right time to meet demand, but energy can be stored in these heat networks by using large, well-insulated hot water tanks that can hold the energy for several days. Boreholes deep underground could store heat between whole seasons. After all, energy stored as heat costs far less per unit than electricity stored in batteries.
Energy storage would be part of any plan for Sheffield to make use of industry’s wasted heat, but the benefits could extend much wider than the city itself. As increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy are fed into the national grid, large heat stores for power stations with a heat network allow for flexible electricity outputs. At times of excess electricity production from renewables, this energy could be taken from the grid and stored as heat.
Since heating uses up 44% of the UK’s energy, and a similar amount in the US, heat networks with energy storage can play a major role in making national energy systems more efficient and sustainable. Even in warmer climates, there is a growing market for district cooling systems which operate on similar principles.
People working in energy policy are only just beginning to think in a more holistic way by considering how best to provide heat and electricity. So much energy is needed for heating that we won’t meet our emissions targets without a joined-up policy. A more efficient energy system, where heat is valued, preserved and put to use, can lower people’s bills while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.
(Click image to enlarge)
Whilst a lot of attention has rightly been given to the most effective and affordable ways of decarbonising the power sector it is also important to fundamentally change the way we heat our homes if the UK is to make the transition to a low carbon future.
Around 20% of the nation’s carbon emissions are generated by domestic heating. Much of the UK’s housing has a low standard of energy efficiency and up to 90% of our 26 million homes could still be around in 2050.
However, whilst improving the efficiency of homes is important, this alone will not deliver the emissions reduction we need. It sounds a daunting task, but we believe measures that substantially reduce heat demand can be a cost-effective system investment – if applied selectively to around 25% of the UK’s housing stock. What’s needed though is a holistic plan, combining these efficiency measures with low carbon heat sources.
The ETI believes there are two main solutions depending on local circumstances, one delivering low carbon heat through heat networks at a local area level and one focussing on individual home systems using electricity for heating.
To deliver these solutions it will be necessary to implement a system level framework to package known but underdeveloped technologies into integrated solutions. This then needs to be translated into local energy strategies taking into account the different needs of different locations.
These strategies need to consider the geographical layout, house types, individual consumer preferences, availability of local energy resources and natural features and constraints. Without having such a strategic framework and design tools in place it would be impossible to build a coherent transition pathway or gain the essential consensus of local consumers.
Recognising this vital requirement, the ETI is developing a set of tools, under the brand of EnergyPath, along with processes which act together to support the systematic assessment of future solutions for local areas.
It will be far from easy to establish new heating solutions that substantially remove natural gas from domestic home heating systems, so compelling consumer propositions and business models will need to be created, and affordability needs will remain a key element of any transition planning.
If changes are to be implemented on such a large scale it is vital that those are not forced on householders but instead their views, preferences and concerns are considered and influence final decisions.
Over the last 18 months we have researched the views of over 2,500 consumers which showed that most don’t want to change how they heat their homes simply because it would reduce carbon emissions.
They did however want to optimise their heating systems before replacing them, and it was clear that different households have different priorities. People want better control of the time, effort and money they spend on their home. They don’t simply want to minimise their running costs.
When contemplating changes on such a scale proper planning and preparation is needed, especially over the next decade as rapid implementation will be required from 2025 to meet the 2050 targets.
During that 25 year period around 26 million homes will require new low carbon installations at the rate of 20,000 per week – the equivalent of upgrading every home in a town the size of Milton Keynes 10 times over each year.
So the real challenge is not so much technology based – but lies around gaining public consensus and trust in the change that is needed.
If we are to successfully deliver near-zero emission homes, it is important to integrate the transition of the energy system into local planning processes to form coherent strategic local plans that link to national objectives.
The importance of the ‘preparedness and confidence building phase’ cannot be over emphasised as a lack of market confidence and delay in building the necessary momentum will inevitably lead to higher costs driven by harder pressed resources, along with missed targets and business opportunities.
Through its SSH programme, the ETI is continuing to invest in building the understanding of consumer needs and the development of energy system product and design tools. Working in partnership with a small group of local authorities it is intended to demonstrate real solutions in real local areas to help inform policy and support the introduction of local strategic energy system plans, consumer products and business models that can help generate the momentum required to achieve 2050 climate goals.
Jeff Douglas is the Strategy Manager for The Energy Technologies Institute.
This blog was kindly replicated with permission from The Energy Technologies Institute. For more information on their project 'Smart Systems and Heat: Decarbonising Heat for UK Homes' click here.