Universities can improve energy efficiency and performance

With rising energy costs and challenging environmental targets to meet, universities face continuing pressure to create a more sustainable, energy-efficient estate. Paul Arnold, product manager at Remeha, looks at the opportunities that heating offers to improve energy performance.

First the good news.In its 2018 Estates Management report, The Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) pointed to falling carbon emissions across the 150 institutions it analysed. However, while some Universities are far ahead of the curve, more widespread action is necessary if the sector is to meet its legally binding emissions reduction target of 43% by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Heat has emerged as a key focus. As a large user of energy, it’s a natural target for efficiency measures, supporting the drive to reduce energy demand and costs as well as associated emissions. Ensuring that the heating system operates effectively and efficiently also has a huge part to play in generating a comfortable, productive university environment, both in study spaces and residential accommodation.

So where to start? Achieving energy-efficient heating can be as complex as the nature of university estates, which not only vary in size and age but typically combine a mix of old and new buildings.

New buildings should be designed to be both low carbon and low energy as a matter of course. In these new build projects, electric heating equipment such as air source heat pumps will increasingly be used to comply with regulated energy targets in the next revision of Building Regulations.

It’s the older buildings that present the real challenge. In these buildings, there may not be the budget to upgrade the electricity supplies to meet the requirement of electric heating technology. Equally, due to the nature of the heating system, higher temperature heating solutions may prove to be bothmore suitable and more cost-effective.

So what options are available for energy and estates managersto improve heating efficiency in their ageing building stock? As using energy more effectively should be the priority, let’s start with the low-hanging fruit.

With manyolder university buildings still relyingon commercial boilersfor heat, a relatively simple and cost-effective plant upgradecontinues to offer huge scope for energy, cost and carbon savings.

Take Aberystwyth University. Gas consumption at its William Davies research centre fell by an impressive 46% after replacing the existing ageing boiler plant with high efficiency Remeha condensing boilers, with an associated drop in emissions and bills.

This successful outcome was followed by a 50% reduction in gas usage in the student accommodation buildings at its Penglais Campus,where new Remeha boilers replaced older heating equipment.

As no two boilers are alike, what factors should influence boiler selection? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Universitiesfrequently cite robust, reliable performance as the first requirement.But with 35% of total estates management costs currently attributed to maintenance and repairs, compared with 20% for total energy costs (Source: AUDE), ensuring ease of servicing and maintenance is equally fundamental.

Universities like Cardiff Metropolitan University have taken a whole-life approach to costing, standardising boilerequipment across their estates to enable more efficient maintenance and servicing. The estates management team carried out a survey into the lifecycle performance of the different boiler brands across the Universitysites.In their study, ease of installation joined robust performance and ease of maintenance and servicing in the list of criteria for evaluation.

Ease of installation is crucial as space and access restrictions can present challenges, particularly in older buildings. In basement plant rooms with a high heat output requirement, as at Aberystwyth University’s William Davies Building, the ability to disassemble larger boiler units into parts helps overcome access restrictions, while integrated wheels enable easier manoeuvrability into and around the plantroom.

When standardising equipment, it’s advisable to ensure that the manufacturer supplies a wide selection of boiler models and flexible design options, as each project will have individual requirements.

Higher output wall-hung boilers, for example, provide additional options to overcome limited working space and access. At Keele University, Ford Mainwaring selected multiple high-output wall-hung boilers to replace failing boilers at the David Weatherall Building rather than ‘like for like’ larger units in the rooftop plant room.

This arrangement has increased the turndown ratio, enabling fluctuating heat load to be more accurately matched for improved seasonal efficiencies and reliability, in line with the University’s requirements.

The design brought logistical, financial and time-savingbenefits. As the six Quinta Ace 160 boilers could be transported in a lift, thisminimised on-site disruption and avoidedthe need for a crane, which would have incurred additional costs. At the same time, installing the boilers on a pre-assembled cascade system helped meet the tight project schedule.

Control is a further factor that should be considered from the outset, as an effective control strategy is critical to optimiselong-termboiler and system performance.Maximising use of onboard and optional boiler controls, for example,will enhance efficiency levels. Boilers like the Remeha Quinta Ace range are supplied with smart controls specially designed to make commissioning, diagnosis and servicing easier and more accurate. The new intuitive interface also allows more straightforward monitoring by estates and energy managers to optimise energy performance.

What happens when the low hanging fruit has been picked?

As we look to decarbonise heat, installing hybrid solutions – where low carbon technologies operate in conjunction with high-efficiency condensing boilers – should be an option where possible.

In older University buildings with high demand for electricity and heating and/or hot water, the most effective solution for long-term savings may be to install Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units, with condensing boilers meeting peak demand.

CHPcan bring huge financial benefits in buildings like these, allowing Universities to generate their own lower carbon, lower cost energy.And as the spark spread – the difference between gas and electricity costs – continues to widen, the economic advantages of CHP strengthen.

For University energy and estates managers, the challenge is to create an estate that is both energy-efficient and cost-effective, combining the best of the past with the innovation of the future. Different buildings require different solutions. We at Remeha look forward to supporting consultants and contractors toachieve greater sustainability and comfort across University estates, starting with more energy-efficient heating.

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