Reducing energy consumption in our buildings makes perfect business sense, lowering running costs and minimising their environmental impact. It’s particularly important in sites like leisure centres where energy costs are second only to the cost of labour, accounting for as much as 30% oftotal operational costs – greater than in any other industry sector.
So, where should energy and estates managers look to improve efficiency? The Government has identified heat and power in buildings as good starting places, as together they are responsible for around 40% of total UK energy use.
Certainly, heating and hot water account for a large proportion of energy bills in leisure centres, especially in complexes with swimming pools. With large volumes of water that must be continuously heated, swimming pools typically use five times as much energy per square metre as offices, according to CIBSE.
Electricity usage is also high, especially in centres that use it extensively for ventilation, lighting, fans and pumps.
For this reason, combined heat and power (CHP) is increasingly seen as a strategic tool for significant, long-term savings in leisure centres. By generating heat and power in a single process at the point of use, CHP is around 30% more efficient overall than using traditional heating plant and electricity supplied solely from the grid.
How does it work?
CHP is effectively a small power station, only more than twice as efficient due to its ability to capture otherwise wasted energy.
Unlike traditional power stations which reject ‘waste’ heat to the atmosphere, with CHP, the heat is recovered on site and used for space heating, hot water – or heating swimming pools.
And by generating electricity on site, CHP can produce low-carbon electricity at lower gas prices. All of which adds up to significant financial savings and improved energy security for businesses, including during the triad periods when grid power demand surges.
At the same time, it provides energy and estates managers with the opportunity to ensure greater energy resilience, helping offset fluctuating wholesale markets for electricity and gas.
Why leisure centres?
CHP operates most efficiently and generates greater cost and carbon emissions savings if it is running constantly and, preferably, at full output. As a general rule of thumb, 4000 operating hours is usually the minimum requirement to achieve an acceptable return on investment from CHP – which in our experience can be less than five years.
Leisure centres are, in the main, in constant use, opening almost every day of the year from early in the morning until late at night, with a high, year-round requirement for heat and power.
CHP is able to meet their constant demand for space heating and hot water while keeping heat and power costs low, making it a cost-effective solution for leisure centre owners and operators.
How to ensure optimal CHP operation and maximum benefits
How the CHP unit is sized has a significant impact on its performance. Oversizing the CHP will cause the unit to shut down during periods of low thermal demand, resulting in frequent stop-start cycling. To avoid this, the best approach is generally to match CHP heat output to the building base load, with condensing boilers operating in conjunction to meet peak heat demand.
Get the sizing right and a continuously-running CHP unit will generate low-cost, low-carbon electricity as a by-product of producing base load heating.
Good suppliers will have a dedicated CHP team on hand to offer support and guidance at every step. No one knows a product as well as the supplier, so it’s advisable to involve them early on to get the best from the equipment. How a low-carbon technology like CHP is integrated into the system will affect its performance. Suppliers will be able to provide access to information that could help save time and money. The likelihood is that they will have seen a similar scenario before and its outcome. They should, therefore, be able to supply schematics and exemplary drawings that could prove useful.
Specialist technical engineers will be able to assist with the implementation and integration of the CHP as well as carrying out pre-commissioning, assembly and full commissioning, if required.
Putting a service plan in place from the outset will ensure that the CHP unit continues to operate efficiently and reliably. Using experienced CHP engineers to service the unit will also enable maintenance to be carried out with minimum disruption.
Most suppliers will offer a choice of service plans, all of which will include inspections at regular intervals, typically at around 6000 CHP operating hours for a 20kWe unit. The plan will also include remote monitoring. As an estimated 85% of reported CHP faults are able to be corrected and reset remotely, this reduces downtime, inconvenience and costs still further – as well as the carbon emissions associated with a site visit.
Energy management benefits
What about the initial outlay? Funding for CHP and interest-free loans are available from schemes like Salix Finance and the Revolving Green Fund. CHP systems also qualify for Enhanced Capital Allowances and their fuel input is exempt from the Climate Change Levy, making the business case still stronger.
But even without grants, CHP offers huge scope for carbon and cost reductions in leisure centres. Just a 10% improvement in the management of energy use could save UK leisure facilities up to £70m each year and reduce carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tonnes, according to the Carbon Trust. CHP, which is fully compliant with all energy efficiency regulations and NOx requirements, has the potential to reduce a centre’s energy bills by three times that amount.
Perhaps, most importantly, as the grid undergoes its biggest change in recent years, CHP provides improved control over energy consumption. And for local authorities committed to reducing energy consumption and emissions across all their estates, including leisure centres, that’s surely a compelling argument.