Practice Makes Perfect

In his latest column Pete Mills, Commercial Technical Operations Manager for Bosch Commercial & Industrial looks at what 2021 has in store for heat networks.

Decarbonising the energy used to heat domestic and commercial buildings understandably continues to be a key aspect of Government policy. Over the last year or so, we may have seen some short-term benefit of lower emissions from transport because of the COVID pandemic. However, for home heating it is the opposite case, with so many of us working from home. This emphasises the importance of tackling emissions from heating, particularly if post-pandemic the trend for working from home continues.

Although much of the 10-point plan revealed last year by the Prime Minister was focussed on the important benefits that hydrogen gas could bring to tackling this problem, heat networks still are a key route to decarbonising homes in dense urban areas. Heat networks are the only technology available that can effectively make use of waste heat at the scale needed to reduce the primary energy use. They are also the most versatile heat delivery system when it comes to utilising different heat sources.

So with this in mind, the regulations and practices behind heat networks need to be brought up to speed to match the traction the implementation of heat networks is making. Luckily that is just what’s happening.

Time for change

This year has already started to be an important year in UK heat network development. We are midway through the consultation process looking at overall regulation of the industry, under the Heat Networks: building a market framework. This will be a very significant move as the industry looks to address some of the issues around service levels and heat network performance that have been seen in a relatively small number of schemes. Regulation should raise the industry to a similar level as other utilities to ensure consumer protections are hard wired in from the start. A recent publication from Citizen Advice has once again highlighted the immediate need to address, in particular, service levels and transparency to consumers.

Using what we’ve learnt

Over the years knowledge and experience has been gained by the industry in terms of how heat networks perform under UK requirements. This has been captured in the latest update of the formally named ‘CIBSE CP1(2020): Heat Networks a Code of Practice for the UK’ which was released earlier this year.

First unveiled back in 2015, the code of practice has done a great deal to improve the performance and delivery of heat networks in this country. Its latest iteration CP1 (2020) looks to have a similar impact, as it sets out to make use of the code more transparent, verifiable and consistent.

When first released CP1 was the CIBSE’s first code of practice document. This meant it started out as sat between a process to follow and a technical guide. There was no clear indication in which technical solution would be best, but instead encouraged flexibility and innovation to result in the optimal solution.

The latest version continues this approach, whilst adding more technical guidance and tighter processes. Thanks to an additional spreadsheet, it is now possible to log evidence during the heat network development at key stages, Such as planning, design, installation and commissioning. Combined these show the client how the scheme is compliant to the code of practise.

Also there is now much more responsibility emphasised upon the client during the process, although it does understandably recognise that it is more likely to be a qualified heat network specialist working on behalf of the main client. The improved demarcation of roles and responsibilities that CP1 now contains should act as a reference for the legal agreements that are often necessary for the larger schemes.

Communicating Commission

One of the best elements of CP1(2020) is its recognition that commissioning is the most important stage when it comes to a heat network scheme. Regardless of how meticulously designed or professionally installed the heat network may be, if it isn’t commissioned in the right way it will always fall short on performance.

Ensuring the information is communicated clearly between the design team, to the installation team and finally to the commissioning team is key. The aforementioned spreadsheet will enable this clear flow of information.

Also, the relevant sections of the code referring to commissioning have been revised, particularly around the requirement for acceptance testing. Acceptance testing will greatly improve the benefits of the heat network for both end users and those operating the scheme. Individual dwellings will be required to verify that the design performance is being met. Time must be allocated within the overall program of works to ensure that this stage can be met, as without it, the evidence to show the network is working at full capability will not be available.

CP1(2020) is a great step in the right direction for the implementation of heat network schemes in the UK and hopefully is already being welcomed but the industry. Heat networks will continue to grow but only if there is evidence for both customer satisfaction and carbon savings. The code ensures this is available whilst pointing the UK towards net zero buldings.