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The importance of basic knowledge

As a thermal energy consultant, a large part of my work is not giving advice to clients on new technologies but to simply inform them on their existing systems and how their systems work. The vast majority of clients I have worked with can reduce their thermal energy consumption by 20-30% by simple behaviour changes without any major financial investment.

As it is correctly pointed out in the Bonfield report, many consumers understand the role of their boiler and their hot water cylinder, but that is typically as far as their knowledge goes. The underlying issue is that most householders don’t understand the basics on how these systems work and how their behaviour affects these systems. How can anyone make a decision on investing time and money into something they don’t understand?

I shall give a few examples;

Did you know?

  • Most high efficiency boilers on the market do not operate at their optimum efficiency levels. Their efficiency levels can be around 95%, but if they are not operated correctly they are closer to 80-85% efficient. (Unfortunately this is the range most boilers are operating at.)
  • Boxing in a radiator can reduce its output by as much as 50% and having clutter underneath it can reduce the output by 30%.
  • The most used scale protection method used in domestic homes is only around 50% efficient. (Would you buy a car that works only 50% of the time?)

Understanding and knowledge, or at least having a trusted reference point, will help provide a foundation and confidence for householders to implement behavioural changes and invest in energy saving equipment.

Furthermore, the importance of energy saving equipment doing what it says on the tin cannot be overstated enough. There is a great need for a quality mark of all products sold and used as energy saving equipment as there is a lot of misleading information around.

A good example on where a quality mark would have a major positive impact is scale protection.

Limescale is one of the worst enemies of any heating and hot water system. Apart from reducing energy efficiency, limescale is the main cause of failures in heating and hot water systems and breakdowns in equipment such as circulation pumps, control valves and heat exchangers. There are multiple options available on the market which reduce scale, but they vary considerably in efficiency. Despite most scale reducers claiming to be close to 100% efficient, only a handful are above 90% efficient and most are only between 45-60% efficient. There is however no test available in the UK (such as the German DVGW – W512), to prove the effectiveness of these products and the evidence most of product suppliers produce in the UK is anecdotal.

Most heating engineers don’t even know the difference between the effectiveness of these products, so how should end users know?

In conclusion, if government wants to reduce fuel poverty and reach their carbon emission targets, they should start by educating people.  Producing a small leaflet (printed and online) with basic information on heating and hot water systems and distribute it to every household would not only supply the much needed information, it would give people something to refer back to and re-use if they move to another property with a different heating and hot water system. Furthermore it would be a good foundation for the information hub.

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