Where to for industrial, business and home heat?

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Households are moving away from gas for use for heating and other purposes. Maybe industry should too.

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In Australia, the focus of climate and energy policy has been electricity. It’s a core input to essential energy services, it’s expensive, and it’s responsible for a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But provision of heat is responsible for half as much climate impact as electricity, or as much as transport. And often the equipment that uses gas or oil uses a lot of electricity as well. Recent rapid increases in gas prices and price volatility have focused attention on reducing dependence on gas, much of which provides heat.

Australia’s emissions from burning fuels for heat production are broken down in the pie chart below.

There is exciting potential to cut these emissions by measures including improved energy efficiency, rethinking industrial processes to reduce the need for heat, and switching from gas and oil to high efficiency electric technologies driven by renewable electricity.

Many households are already moving away from gas to high efficiency reverse-cycle air conditioners, heat pump water heaters and induction cooking. But we need better insulated hot water tanks and ovens, as well as thermally efficient buildings and smart electricity management systems, to minimise costs and maximise benefits.

In the commercial sector, gas use, mainly for space heating, hot water and cooking, is often appallingly inefficient. Inefficient (often old and poorly maintained) boilers, large losses from pipes and ducts, poor control systems, thermally poor buildings, and inefficient gas cooking provide very large potential for savings. Past low gas prices have led many to be sloppy in their use of gas.

Australia’s emissions from burning fuels for heat production,broken down by sector (2013–14; total 93 Mt CO2e).

Gas use in industry is often surprisingly inefficient, too. When losses from poorly insulated steam pipes and leaky fittings, ancient and inefficient boilers up to 50 years old and inefficient process equipment are considered, the waste is staggering.

Under the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program (shut down by the Abbott government, despite outstanding cost-effectiveness and global recognition), companies were required to develop computer models of the energy and material flows through their processes and to benchmark efficiency against theoretical optimums.

Many firms, and their experienced engineers, were very surprised by the scale of inefficiency and the scope for cost-effective efficiency improvement.

Industrial-scale electric heat pumps can now efficiently provide steam using renewable electricity. Improved catalysts are reducing the temperatures of processes. Green chemistry and advanced metallurgy are creating more productive processes, higher quality products and lower process temperatures.

Smart controls and monitoring systems reduce reject rates (and the energy wasted producing items that can’t be sold). Improved heat recovery and heat/cool storage increase flexibility and allow previously wasted energy to be utilised.

At the point of use of products, ‘virtual’ solutions are replacing physical products and movement. These include weight reduction and shifting to lower emission impact materials (e.g. engineered timber replacing steel and concrete, and cement made from geopolymers). Increased recycling means lower temperature, less energy-intensive processes replace production of virgin materials.

We are also seeing exciting potential to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy across all combustion activities: ARENA recently funded a study that explored these possibilities.

Across all elements in the supply chain, the multiple bene ts of new solutions, ranging from cooler commercial kitchens to lower reject rates and improved staff productivity, amplify the energy benefits.

The big question is whether Australians will capture these opportunities or continue to see themselves as victims of change. Maybe the emerging focus on energy productivity and innovation can help.

Alan Pears is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, advises a number of industry and community organisations and works as a consultant. This article first appeared in Renew magazine, reproduced with permission of the author.

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6 Comments
  1. Brunel 3 years ago

    What about schools and district cooling.

    If district cooling is cheaper to run – it should be installed in new suburbs like Fishermans Bend.

    And electric heaters that are just toasters should be given a 1 star rating so people choose a heat pump instead.

    • Tim Forcey 3 years ago

      (Resistive) electric heaters “are just toasters”. I like that one Brunel, mind if I use it!

      Actually I think they would be about minus 5 stars if I understand the rating system correctly (10 to 15% efficiency improvement with each star).

      7 star space-heating heat pumps (aka reverse cycle air cons) are now on the market. See: http://renew.org.au/articles/comfortably-ahead-a-tale-of-two-heaters

      • Brunel 3 years ago

        You can call them toasters as long as you do not call for a ban on them!

        – 5 stars? But they are close to 100% efficient. The trouble is a heat pump radiators are way more efficient. About 3x as efficient as toasters.

        So no more than 2 stars for resistance heaters – while heat pumps can get 5 stars.

        • Tim Forcey 3 years ago

          Ok let me think about / research this. The worst heat pump (reverse cycle air conditioner) with a star rating at the energyrating.gov.au website is 1.5 stars and with an electrical input of 1.5 kW can produce 3.34 kW of heat. Whereas as you say, with the “toaster”, for the same 1.5 kW of electrical input you would get only 1.5 kW of heat output. If one incremental star is awarded (or taken away) for say a 15% change in “efficiency”, then a toaster must rate 5 stars poorer than the 1.5 star heat pump, or minus 3.5 stars, according to the maths I just did on the back of the envelope here. (3.34 kW * 0.85 * 0.85 * 0.85 * 0.85 * 0.85=1.5 kW). Make sense? What we are doing here of course is not science or engineering, just playing around with different ways to communicate, to those that must make heating choices…

          • Brunel 3 years ago

            Currently, with no labels on large toasters, we are not communicating electricity consumption at all.

            And there has never been a minus star. A lot of voters may get confused if minus stars are introduced.

            For nerds maybe they could have an overall heating efficiency rating in % and a dumbed down star rating for the masses – 1 star to 5 star.

  2. Ian 3 years ago

    There are plenty of big box stores like Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings and the like that would be ideal for renewables type space conditioning and refrigeration ,also public institutions such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, swimming pools .

    Most heat pumps are stand alone. ie, air conditioners have their own ,mostly, air cooled condensers, or as another example, hot water heat pumps draw heat from the ambient air. It’s time we had more integrated heat management systems, such as extracting heat from refrigerated spaces and using it for hot water heating. Heated hydrotherapy swimming pools could exchange heat with an air conditioned hospital or nursing home.

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