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H is for heating

Living in the UK, even with global warming, it does get cold, particularly in the winter. We all want somewhere to live and that place hopefully is warm as well.

For many of us, heating has never been too much of a problem, when it gets cold we put on the central heating, turn on the fire and carry on.

Because of the huge hike in fuel prices, for the first time many of us had to think twice as we were warned of the huge increases in fuel costs. Perhaps also beginning to appreciate for the first time, the less well off who have always had a problem with heating or eating.

Based on trawling through the internet, there are in excess of 24 million homes in the UK. Of these approximately 20% were built before 1900 a further 20% between 1900 and 1939. Approximately 6 million homes have been built since 1983. Newer homes are better insulated. What does this mean?

Keeping an older house warm is a challenge.

With the move away from fossil fuels we are looking at an interesting future, electric heating will continue, modern gas boilers are being manufactured to be compatible with the use of hydrogen instead of north sea gas and we are being encouraged to use renewable sources.

Of the renewables, there are air and ground source heat pumps. There are significant grants available for the installation of this equipment. Take up has been slow, partly due to cost and also arguments about their effectiveness. Certainly for those homes built before 1939 there would be significant challenges due to poor insulation.

In a business when times are good, we sometimes do not take so much notice of the small things, the marginal gains to be had by more careful spending or investment, relying a bit too much in that famous phrase ‘making do’.

All the homes in the UK have one common denominator, apart from flats below the top floor, a roof. Installation of solar panels where possible will add to the renewable generating capacity of the UK. This allows the cost of heating to come down, whilst along with increasing investment in insulation, reducing the actual amount of heating we need.

Solar panels have fallen out of favour, partly due to the withdrawal of government incentives. A relative of mine recently put 13 panels on his roof and is now enjoying a lot of free electricity. He has even been selling some back to the grid. According to figures on the Which? website a typical installation with some credit back for the excess electricity, brings a 10 year payback. A significant time, but the other way of looking at it, that’s a 10% annual return. Tax free.

The Smart Electricity Generation scheme (SEG) covers the process of selling excess electricity to the grid. In 2021/22 there were 34,000 homes registered with the scheme, they had a generating capacity of 156 megawatts, enough to power 36,000 3 bed homes for a year. Between them they received £1.67 million back for the surplus electricity generated.

There are a lot of marginal gains to be made in pushing down the cost of electricity by expanding renewable generation. There are increasingly clever devices that use this generated power to further reduce gas consumption. Even better it can start to make a difference in months, not years. It would help bring down inflation and provide a higher degree of energy security.

For the business owner, the price of electricity may not be a significant matter, but within all businesses there are things that we can do differently. Either through investment in training or use of technology. Yesterday a plumber checked our household central heating pipework (that didn’t do very well last winter) to help identify problem areas without the need for pulling up flooring and carpets everywhere. He used a thermal camera. Quick and efficient. The answer was to rebalance the radiators correctly. But it could have identified more significant problems.

Looking at ways to ‘warm up’ our business processes, is a good thing. Let’s face it, most of us prefer a warm relaxing space, free from the cold drafts of inefficiencies. Just needs action.

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