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With ongoing efforts from governments across the globe to reduce carbon emissions and with an ever greater focus on sustainability, it is vital that the HVAC sector does its part in becoming more environmentally conscious. And, while there have been steps to become more sustainable, there is a huge amount that still needs to be done to make sure that many of the targets that have been set are attainable. In buildings, both large and small, industrial heating accounts for roughly two thirds of industrial energy demand and around a fifth of global energy consumption. Figures like this show the need to have efficient and environmentally-friendly HVAC equipment in place to make the crucial steps towards reducing the contributions these systems make to our carbon footprint. High energy consumption in construction sector A 2019 report by The International Environment Agency (IEA) showed that the buildings and construction sectors combined were responsible for over 30% of global energy consumption and nearly 40% of carbon emissions. This is indicative of the steps the sector needs to take to play its role in a more eco-friendly society, some of which are already underway. However, much more needs to be done if the UK is to reach its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As we envisage what a post-COVID world might look like, businesses and governments are continuing to put sustainability and lower carbon emissions at the forefront of their planning and the HVAC sector is certainly no exception. But with change in the sector a daunting prospect, decision-makers often don’t know where to start. Smart Technology use in HVAC systems Smart HVAC uses sensors that integrate with a building’s automation system With the constant growth and greater deployment of smart technologies within the HVAC sector, this is certainly a way that systems can become more efficient. Smart HVAC uses sensors that integrate with a building’s automation system. These sensors then collect information about conditions throughout the building. Heat waves are now a far more common occurrence in the United Kingdom. The Met Office estimates they are up to 30 times more likely and will be a bi-annual occurrence by 2050. It is important that any uptake in HVAC usage doesn’t lead to a drastic increase in emission generation. This is one of the areas where smart systems will become crucial. Many scientists have been unequivocal in their sentiment that heat waves are a cause of greater emissions and expect temperature records in the UK and Europe to be broken more regularly, so sites will need to be equipped to handle these conditions. Regulating temperature with hand-held devices With wireless systems now much more commonplace, temperatures can be controlled easily from hand-held devices. With these new technologies, those managing the systems can also benefit from remote monitoring and maintenance, reducing the need to travel to the site for yet another environmental incentive. To accompany the smart systems, equipment including smart thermostats can be installed to maximize HVAC efficiency. Other smart systems available to businesses include smart furnaces and air conditioning units that are far easier to operate than their traditional counterparts. Reducing unnecessary ventilation While global temperatures continue to rise, air conditioning usage has increased and has contributed to greater levels of energy usage. A huge amount of needless emissions are generated by unnecessary ventilation, contributing heavily to heat loss and overall energy wastage. Recirculation of air is a traditionally lower energy cost method of retaining heat and keeping emissions low, however, we must be mindful of the risks associated with recirculating air. The risk of circulating diseases is negated somewhat with heat recovery ventilation, which both removes the risk of disease spreading and improves energy consumption. Efficiency performance of new AC units Air conditioning units in particular contribute significantly to a building’s energy consumption Air conditioning units in particular contribute significantly to a building’s energy consumption, equating to 10% of the UK’s electricity consumption and as such it is important that we bear in mind ways to counteract the emissions this creates. Global energy demand for air conditioning units is expected to triple by 2050, as temperatures continue to rise year on year. The efficiency performance of new air conditioning units will be the key, when it comes to ensuring that escalating demand does not equate to greater emissions. Another issue for suppliers and manufacturers to address is differing rates of consumption for AC units in different countries, with units sold in Japan and the EU typically more efficient than those found in China and the US. Modularization Modular HVACs have also become increasingly popular in recent years. Modular HVACs are responsible for heating, cooling and distributing air through an entire building, with their increase in popularity largely down to their greater levels of energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, flexibility and substantial ease of installation and maintenance. Modular HVACs can be tailored specifically for workspaces and they often allow work to be done on the systems without disturbing the workforce, achieved primarily through rooftop placement. Commercial workspaces are larger and often require differing needs to residential properties and can cater to a wide range of the specific requirements of work and commercial spaces. As we strive for lower carbon emissions, it seems that this trend will continue and will become a key area in reducing emissions that HVACs have traditionally generated. System maintenance and training To meet government and industry requirements, many new buildings will require HVAC systems that can be maintained simply in order to perform in a more energy efficient way. Many companies are looking at ways to become climate neutral and significantly reduce their footprint Many companies are looking at ways to become climate neutral and significantly reduce their footprint. Companies are following the likes of German-based company, Wilo Group, who have announced they are committing to sustainable manufacturing by developing a new carbon neutral plant and HQ in the next few years. Lowering carbon footprint As we continue to move towards an ever more environmentally conscious society, it will be of paramount importance for companies, governments and the public to think about ways in which we can lower carbon emissions. Smart technologies will certainly be at the forefront of this, negating many needless journeys and making it easier for industries to adjust settings and tackle issues remotely. Greater levels of training will help equip us with the tools to make sure we are best placed to reduce emissions and be more sustainable as a result. While the steps outlined above do show some progress and measures we can take, there is far more that we can do as a sector to significantly reduce HVAC’s carbon footprint and once we have moved beyond the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this will surely be at the front of industry leader minds.
Pete Mills, Commercial Technical Operations Manager at Bosch Commercial & Industrial outlines how cities are using heat networks to achieve UK carbon emission targets. Heat networks, or district heating, are becoming an ever-greater part of our industry’s involvement in larger scale schemes. The ability to help the decarbonization of heat both now and in the future has made them an attractive solution to the new-build sector, as well as those undergoing deep renovation works. Net zero 2050 The UK’s net zero 2050 target may seem like a long way off. But steps need to be made now in order to reach this, something that our leading cities have recognized. Many have set their own carbon targets to ensure they stay on track. This is why heat networks’ ability to provide efficient heat and hot water to multiple buildings (and as the name suggests, whole districts) is a particular reason why many cities up and down the country are turning to them as a solution. What are heat networks? Generally, heat networks are defined as a system of supply pipes with a centralized heat generator (Energy Centre) that serves multiple domestic or non-domestic dwellings. These are usually in different buildings, but sometimes within a single large building like an apartment block or a university campus.District heating is often used to describe larger scale systems District heating is often used to describe larger scale systems of this sort, where there will be many buildings connected over a larger geographic area. In these systems, although the heat is provided ‘off-dwelling’, it is also common to have more than one energy centre. The principle is that energy for heating (and sometimes cooling) is supplied through the system of pipes, with each individual user being metered for the energy they use. Minimize pipe lengths Heat networks offer a number of advantages but are best suited to areas where there is high heat density, that is to say where there are multiple ‘households’ close together in order to minimize the length of pipes within the network. One of the key advantages for heat networks is their adaptability to use any form of heat generation. A key advantage from an environmental perspective is that they make use of waste heat, from sources such as electricity generation, waste incineration and industry. Heat networks are defined as a system of supply pipes with a centralized heat generator that serves multiple domestic or non-domestic dwellings The scale of the combined heat requirements of all these dwellings also helps the inclusion of renewable energy sources, which may be more difficult and costly to achieve at the individual dwelling level. Overall, their flexibility to use whatever heat source is available, makes them easier to decarbonize in the future.Other key benefits for Local Authorities and Housing Associations have been the elimination of individual gas appliances within dwellings. This has significant cost savings reductions for Local Authorities and Housing Associations where gas landlord checks are eliminated, along with the issues associated with access. City developments Today City Councils and developers are opting for heat networks to provide the heating and hot water for new redevelopment projects. The largest of these is the ambitious Leeds Heat Network, which once completed is set to be one of the UK’s largest new heat networks, connecting 1,983 council homes and numerous businesses in Leeds. The first scheme under the City Region’s District Heating program, the green initiative looks to reduce carbon emissions for the area as well as energy bills for the residents living there.The green initiative looks to reduce carbon emissions for the area Even more innovative is how the network will connect to the Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility, which burns black bin bag waste to generate heat. In theory this would make the network fully sustainable. There will be back-up support from efficient Bosch Commercial & Industrial boilers, which will only be switched on when required, say the colder months where the need for heat is higher. Climate change targets An hour’s drive away from Leeds is the city with one of the most ambitious climate targets in the UK. Manchester intends to be carbon-neutral, climate resilient and zero waste by 2038 – 12 years before the overall UK net zero 2050 target needs to be hit.To help achieve its ambitions, work has been taking place on the Manchester Civic Quarter Heat Network (CQHN). Manchester hasshown the versatility of heat networks due to the number of commercial buildings it will support The project will generate low-carbon power, heat and hot water for initially six council buildings and some residential properties with the possibility for the network to grow and connect further buildings across the city centre. Some see district heating as a solution solely for residential purposes, however Manchester have shown the versatility of heat networks due to the number of commercial buildings it will support. The project itself has also given Manchester a new landmark, the impressive ‘Tower of Light’, which incorporates the five flues from the technology powering the network. This beacon not only represents the city’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint but also the innovative nature of district heating. Heating Battersea Power Station The final example lies in the Capital and may be one of the most famous developments in the UK at the moment. Battersea Power Station is not only one of the most iconic landmarks in London, but also the center piece of one of the most high-profile, large scale mixed-use redevelopment projects ever undertaken in the Capital.Battersea Power Station is a high-profile, large scale mixed-use redevelopment project The project involves the development of a district heating and cooling network, with a two-level underground energy centre – one of the largest of its kind. This complex heat, cooling and electricity network will continue to expand as the project continues to undergo its development stages. Looking ahead These are just a few examples of cities taking advantage of district heating and its many benefits, but near all cities in the UK have multiple heat network projects underway. Like with most innovations, smaller urban areas should then follow suit. The importance of district heating will no doubt become more and more prominent. Its ability to power whole areas and multiple buildings can already help efficiency levels, however its potential may be even greater in the future. One key energy transformation that is looking more and more likely is the decarbonization of the gas grid to hydrogen blends and ultimately 100% hydrogen. If these can be utilized in heat networks then the benefits will definitely put us and UK cities in a good place as we continue our journey towards net zero.
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