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Keeping a sense of proportion

This web site doesn’t usually cover domestic energy saving but the topic is of indirect relevance when one is conducting staff energy awareness training. Learning about how to cut energy costs at home is one of the benefits to staff  of participating in such programmes.

At the time of writing (October 2022) UK energy prices are increasing dramatically and the media (as ever in such circumstances) are awash with energy-saving tips, many of which are trivial or patronising. As part of any awareness-raising programme it could be useful to steer people away from irrelevant time-wasting ideas and towards things that will actually make a difference. In this article I’ll put some numbers to some of the advice that’s currently doing the rounds. These are rough-and-ready estimates based on a lot of simplifying assumptions and the prices I will use are £0.15 per kWh for gas and £0.52 per kWh for electricity.

Tip no. 1: when cooking, avoid opening the oven door to inspect the contents

The argument presented here is that the hot air will escape and more energy will need to be put in to compensate. Let’s look at that: the capacity of the oven will be of the order of 60 litres. Let’s say all the air in the oven is replaced with room air. 60 litres of room-temperature air will have a mass of 0.07 kg. With a specific heat of near enough 1 kJ.kgK,  and supposing a temperature rise of (say) 180 degrees, that implies 0.07 x 1 x 180 = 12.6 kJ = 0.003 kWh, or 0.2 pence wasted. Verdict: bonkers.

To put that in perspective, it’s the equivalent of preheating the oven for 4 seconds longer than needed. But even preheating the oven prematurely isn’t a huge deal. Once up to temperature it will very likely dissipate something of the order of one kilowatt (costing 52p per hour) so ten minutes idle costs only about 9p.

Tip no. 2: don’t boil more water than you need

Suppose you boil 0.5 litre more water than you need. With a specific heat of 4.2 kJ/kgK and assuming cold supply at 10°C, the extra heat supplied is 0.5 x 4.2 x (100-10) = 189 kJ = 0.05 kWh or 2.6 pence worth. Verdict: trivial.

Tip no. 3: use a shower rather than a bath

Let’s look first at the cost of a bath using gas-fired hot water. I’ll assume 100 litre (kg) cold feed at 10°C and bathwater heated to 45°C. At a specific heat of 4.2 kJ/kgK that needs 100 x 4.2 x (45-10) = 14,700 kJ of net heat. Assuming 80% boiler efficiency that equates to 18,375 kJ gross , i.e. 5.1 kWh or say 77 pence.

Contrast that with 10 minutes in an 11kW electric shower: that’s 11  x 10/60 = 1.8 kWh, costing 94 pence, a bit more than the bath. To name a saving you’d need to limit yourself to 8 minutes in the shower. Verdict: marginal

What about a shower fed from the gas heating? Suppose it’s a combi boiler with 16 kW water-heating capacity operating at 80% efficiency (ie 20 kW input) again for ten minutes. That would use 20 x 10/60 = 3.3 kWh of gas, costing 50 pence (27 pence less than the bath). Verdict: unexciting

Tip no. 4: turn off unwanted lights

Let’s take for our example an LED lamp rated at 10 watt. That will cost about 3 pence per hour to run but unlike ovens, kettles and baths, one tends to have a lot of them and use them continually so their cumulative effect in a  household could be relatively costly. Eight such lamps run on a daily basis for four hours more than needed would add 8 x 4 x 10 x 365 = 116.8 kWh per year, costing an extra £61 per year. Verdict: do it





The energy-conscious organisation

In 2019 I was involved in the “Energy Conscious Organisation” initiative promoted by the Energy Services and Technology Association. This programme is about behaviour change not in the normal sense (something which organisations promote on the shop floor) but fostering a more holistic approach, bringing in the design and procurement of assets, for example, or addressing maintenance policies. It amounts to organisational culture change drawing in management and professional functions. I think an “Energy Conscious Organisation” could be characterised as follows. It minimises its use of fuel and electricity by…

  • Engaging and involving everyone at all levels and in all functions;
  • Encouraging vigilance, facilitating resolution of problems and exploiting opportunities;
  • Developing individuals’ skills and knowledge as needed;
  • Adapting its policies and processes to guarantee continual improvement;
  • Measuring, monitoring and reporting the results

For brevity we could reduce this to five watchwords: Vigilance—Engagement—Skills—Monitoring—Adaptation. If only that had a memorable acronym.

Air-con bolt-on

Bulletin reader Adam F. is plagued by emails from a company selling a bolt-on thermostatic control for split-system air conditioning units. They claim ‘up to 40%’ savings. Is this plausible?

Now the rate of heat flow into an air-conditioned space is proportional to the outside-inside temperature difference (barring changes in ventilation rate and ignoring solar gain, which I will come back to). Let’s suppose you are maintaining 18°C indoors: the rate of heat inflow when it’s 28°C outside will be double what it is when it is 23°C (a ten-degree differential compared with a five-degree differential).

To maintain steady internal conditions the heat inflow must be balanced by an equal amount of cooling. There are two ways to reduce the energy used for cooling:

  1. reduce the rate of heat inflow; or
  2. improve efficiency or reduce losses in the refrigeration plant which provides the cooling

Solutions based on improved thermostatic control address the first option, and they claim to do so by preventing overshoot whereby the evaporator (indoor unit) continues to cool the space after the set point has been reached and it has turned off. The effect of such overshoot, if it occurs, will be to depress the internal temperature slightly. The heat flow into the space will accordingly increase slightly, balancing the excess cooling that has been supplied. But how significant will the effect be? Ultimately it depends on the impact on average internal temperature over time. Remember that the overshoot will be transitory, but let’s be pessimistic and suppose that it gives an average space temperature that is 0.2°C lower than it need be. With an outside-inside differential of 5 degrees, that would imply only 4% excess heat flow and corresponding cooling load. But this is 4% of quite a low load; if the system were sized for a 20-degree differential a 0.2°C offset in space temperature would be adding only 1% to the load when running at design conditions.

But there is a twist. Overshoot can only occur as the thermostatic control commands the cooling to turn off. This may be quite frequent at low loads, but becomes less so as the load increases and the cooling spends a greater proportion of its time running. So the hotter the weather and the harder the cooling has to work, the less waste there will be in absolute terms, and this smaller absolute waste becomes an infinitesimal percentage of the higher demand. Solar gain, when it occurs, increases the load on the cooling system, which reduces the number of start-stop cycles by lengthening the ‘on’ periods and hence cuts down the opportunities for thermostatic overshoot.

The final thing to bear in mind is that although we have, in this analysis, a range of potential savings from maybe 4% at low load to essentially nil at full load, not much consumption occurs at low load so the potential year-round savings are skewed well away from the 4% figure.

My verdict: plausible savings might be of the order of 1% but only if thermostatic overshoot actually occurs.

Blowing your profits

The ‘Star Spot’ award for June 2022 went to a consultant who spotted completely avoidable waste of compressed air in a factory. Compressed-air systems are both costly to run and prone to hidden losses, so it pays to do what our reader did, namely a walk-round check with his client while the factory was shut for the weekend. They suspected a serious problem because outside working hours there were enough leaks to keep one compressor running almost continuously. As they walked around they found the odd poor joint but when they went outside there was quite a significant hissing from one of the factory’s dust collectors.In this installation the life of the filter bags was prolonged by timed short pulses of compressed air inside the individual bag in order to blow or knock the dust off of the outside of the filter. Unfortunately one of the air lines had become detached upstream of the solenoid valve and was continuously discharging compressed air. With this fixed, the load on the duty air compressor dropped dramatically.

Remember also that all the time the air line was disconnected, the filter bag wasn’t ever being back-flushed: another perfect example of how energy waste often goes hand in hand with loss of service.

Incidentally, it would have been possible to improvise a measurement of the compressed-air savings quite simply. During a period of no demand, you can shut off the compressors and time how long it takes the pressure of the stored air to drop by one bar. Knowing the volume of receivers on the system allows you to compute the rate of air loss. When the pressure drops by one bar, you have lost the receivers’ volume of free air. So for example if you have a 690-litre receiver and it drops from 7 to 6 bar in 30 minutes, the air loss rate is 690/30 litres per minute or the equivalent of over 12,000 cubic metres per year on a continuously-running system. As an efficient compressor takes about 0.1 kWh per m3 of air compressed, that would be wasting 1,200 kWh per year. Repeating the test after attending to leaks would show you how much you had saved; repeating it periodically allows you to monitor for deterioration.

Savings in electric motors

Bulletin reader Matt contacted me after seeing a presentation on replacement electric motors. The sales person claimed they could save 50% energy on a like-for-like replacement of an IE3 motor. Matt quite correctly challenged them to explain how they could save 50% on a motor that’s 90%+ efficient, and of course they could not give a scientific answer.

They might have meant that their motor technology halved the losses in the motor, taking it from say 90% to 95% efficient. But that would result in about 5.3% saving, not 50%. The only way to reduce the energy consumption of a motor by an order of magnitude is to reduce how much work it does. Actually that is entirely possible; it’s what variable-speed control does. On centrifugal fans, for example, a 20% speed reduction almost halves the mechanical power absorbed by the fan and that, thanks to the principle of an energy balance, translates into a corresponding reduction of the power delivered by its motor and hence the power that the motor draws from the mains. So maybe the vendor was not talking about a like-for-like replacement but the replacement of fixed-speed with variable-speed motors. In which case speed-control on the existing motors could be considered as an option.

Anyway, speed control would be one way that the vendor might have achieved their 50% savings. But that would be savings on motor power alone, while their web site trumpets 40-60% savings ‘overall’ on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Also not completely impossible, but (again invoking the principle of an energy balance) it implies that the building’s demand for heating or cooling was reduced by that much. However, short of using the fan-speed control aggressively to cut back the ventilation rate drastically, it is hard to see how that could be achieved.

Pipework insulation

MISSING insulation on hot pipework is not just a waste of energy and money. It can cause overheating of the space it occupies, may compromise delivery temperatures, and may even constitute a scalding hazard.

Allowable heat losses are stipulated in British Standard 5422, which lays down the requirements for compliance with building services compliance guides.

VESMA.COM provides a free on-line calculator which enables you to check whether a given thickness of a particular insulant is likely to be adequate.

STOP PRESS we are running a two-hour technical briefing on pipe, tank and duct insulation presented by Chris Ridge of the Thermal Insulation Contractors’ Association on 7 April, 2022. Details here.

Pre-audit desktop analysis

THE ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES that underpin energy monitoring and targeting have important applications in the search for energy-saving opportunities. A good energy audit doesn’t start with a checklist and a clipboard: it starts with some desktop analysis. Here’s how…

Regression analysis, in which we establish the historical relationship between consumption and its driving factor(s), can give us clues if we see anomalous patterns. Does consumption appear to be weather-related when it shouldn’t be, as in Figure 1? Does it fail to respond to production throughput (as in Figure 2) when logically it ought to vary? Do we seem to have unreasonable levels of fixed consumption?

Figure 1: electricity consumption on this campus was strongly weather related even though it had gas-fired main heating. The relationship should have been a horizontal line rather than sloping. Students were using portable electric heaters in their rooms
Figure 2: electricity consumption on this log-chipper did not fall with lower throughput as one might expect. The machine had high losses and was running continuously although logs were being fed through only occasionally

Regression analysis also enables ‘parametric’ benchmarking which is a simple but more effective variation on the theme (see separate article).

Cusum analysis meanwhile shows us whether past performance has been consistent, and if not, when it changed plus (when combined with regression analysis) in what manner. Did we add (or lose) some fixed demand? Or did sensitivity to a driving factor change? (Read more about cusum here).

Next, the concept of expected consumption enables the computation of ‘performance deficit’, meaning the absolute quantity of energy that we are using in excess of achievable minimum requirements. When translated into cost terms this gives us a clear view of where our most valuable opportunities lie (read more about performance deficit here).

And finally we could add visualisation of fine-grained consumption patterns. But that is costly. Everything else can be done with information collected at weekly intervals.

For training on energy analysis follow this link

Boiler sequencing

This bank of four boiler modules is operating at part load and infra-red imaging confirms that the left-hand module, which is shut down, is not losing heat to atmosphere thanks to an automatic flue damper which prevents cold air being drawn through it.

The other three modules are sharing a relatively light load by running at low output. This tends to incur less loss than operating one or two units at high fire, because the exhaust temperature is lower at reduced burner output.

Testimonials for energy monitoring and targeting training

Over the years I have trained hundreds of energy managers and consultants in the principles of energy monitoring and targeting. Here’s what some of them said…

  • Good combination of things I already knew and things that were new to me. Very engaging and I enjoyed the practical aspects and group involvement. – Jordan Harrison
  • Excellent course with Vilnis Vesma. Provided very useful and key techniques for M&T. Very engaging course as well, with regular exercises. One of the more fun and straightforward course I’ve been on! Thank you Vilnis. – GYE
  • The content is absolutely up-to-date and relevant to my role as energy expert and manager for the industry. All examples for were taken from practice, making this training even more interesting and trusted. It was not my first contact with deviation and CUSUM analyses. But this training brought me new and fresh perspectives. – JLS
  • Great course – RC
  • Great training, very interactive throughout – JW
  • A comprehensive course, packed full of useful nuggets of information – Tim Dennish
  • It’s so refreshing to find a lecturer that is firmly anchored to the ‘real’ world – David Parsons
  • Very useful course with lots of practical applications – Laura Storey
  • A simple approach to a complex subject! – David Roberts
  • Imperative knowledge for all energy managers – Levi Wong
  • The workshop was very worthwhile for someone like me whose business is energy saving products but not familiar with degree day concepts – Len Stevens
  • Excellent day giving basics of energy management – Bruce Claridge
  • A comprehensive workshop for people tasked with energy monitoring & targeting – David Enever
  • I never really understood degree days- and now I do! – Stuart Spencer
  • Vilnis delivers an enthusiastic seminar on energy metering suitable for professionals in the trade and company energy managers – Chris Steer
  • A much more useful way to spend £250 than simply paying your energy bill – Philip Wanless
  • Thought provoking – Ted Bradley
  • Very laid back and made to feel comfortable, being my first course
  • The most beneficial 1 day event I have attended
  • A very useful course with clear and concise information. Essential for any Energy Manager – Jon Farmer
  • Opened my eyes to the amount of added benefit that can be achieved with Degree Day data – Matthew Arnold
  • An excellent review of how to make the most of energy data – Gareth Ellis
  • Great course especially for engineers that use regression & cusum analysis, on a regular basis
  • I found the degree day training one of the most comprehensive and useful experiences of my career. Essential for anyone who needs to know about energy monitoring & targeting – Paige Hodsman
  • Vilnis is a polished presenter and makes a dry topic quite interesting + useful. Well done – Ed Farmer
  • Vilnis has many years of practical experience of energy monitoring & has a passion for sharing his knowledge; very refreshing – Catharine Bull
  • A well structured, thorough and valuable course ideal for businesses keen to save energy – Haydn Young
  • An excellent course for any energy manager wanting to make the most of analysing their consumption data in a meaningful way. Presented in plain English and exercises to help you apply your knowledge – Janette Ackroyd
  • I believe that the knowledge I have gained from the training day will be of great value to my clients and allow me to maintain a longer relationship with them – Laurence Fitch
  • Vilnis really knows his stuff. Excellent course. Highly recommended for anyone interested in monitoring + managing their energy consumption – Simon Hooper
  • A very useful and full day’s training on energy management & targeting. Knows his stuff – Nicholas Smyth
  • A fantastic course full of very useful techniques – Steve Ray
  • Fantastic, very powerful techniques to analyse consumption patterns – Denis Brennan
  • Good use of a day’s time and money – Adrian Evans
  • Within the first hour of the course I was itching to get back to work to put what I was being taught into practice – Adrian Stone
  • Excellent & very well designed – Jonathon Moffat
  • A focused, very practical and extremely useful day. Highly recommended – Nancy Higgins
  • Really targets the essentials – Neil Alcock
  • Gain more, use less. Fly Vilnis – S. Brown
  • Found potential savings the very day after attending the course – Stephen Middleton
  • Very well organised training with excellent presentations. Clear, precise & educational – Julia Clarke
  • The worked examples gave me ideas for analysis using data that was relevant to my organisation – Neil Fletcher
  • Enlightening energy analysis – Andrew Heygate-Browne
  • Excellent, well planned, well paced, inclusive and informative. Most helpful. Thank you – Alan Measures
  • Excellent course, well worth attending – John Taskas
  • All staff should attend this course – Mark Harrison
  • A course which I expected to be boring turned out to be quite interesting – Mick Morris
  • A very useful and extremely interesting course that was well presented – Robert Benson
  • Very interesting and thought provoking course – Avis Street
  • A very structured and well paced training event – Alan Asbury
  • Made concepts which had previously seemed very technical easy to understand – Charlotte Lythgoe
  • A teaching on the fundamentals of M&T that makes M&T simple – David Charles
  • A thorough understanding to the science of efficiencies! – Simon Mansfield
  • excellent, well balanced course and of practical use – George Zych
  • A comprehensive interactive course essential for all energy managers in every sector – Neil Bradley
  • Cusum isn’t the complex, scary thing I thought it was – Rebecca Taylor
  • Brilliant course- very relaxed delivery with practical examples making the material & subject easy to consume – Dave Belshaw
  • Has completely changed the way we analyse our projects going forward – David Dunbar
  • Lots of useful technical information presented at a good pace, and in a very accessible style
  • An excellent day, very sophisticated and detailed presentation for ‘aficionados’ of energy management – David Bradshaw
  • A very useful course, I wish I’d done it five years ago – Phill Windson
  • Excellent day- thanks Vilnis
  • If energy management is new to you then this is the course for you. It’ll get you on the right track straight away. All you could ever need to know- and more!
  • Excellent course that presented some very powerful energy saving techniques – Daniel Jones
  • This will completely revitalise our energy M & T – Donald French
  • armed with these skills you can tackle targeting with confidence – Gary Cooper
  • Excellent, knowledgeable presentation of simple but effective principles and techniques – Richard Ansell
  • Great course to understand the practicalities of energy M & T. – Tom Yearley
  • For once, a course I can actually put into practice at work – AD
  • A comprehensive course, well delivered
  • The course was very good, especially the section on setting targets and making them ‘aggressive but achievable’– AV
  • A necessary course for anyone handling energy data – looking forward to implementing as much of the content as possible across our properties.
  • Highly recommend this course for energy professionals or anyone wanting to know to monitor their energy. Excellent trainer, thorough course with practical exercises – Kate Ingham
  • A very useful and insightful course which has helped me greatly with my work in energy analysis – Grace Sadler
  • The course was delivered in a relaxed and friendly manner where questions and queries were encouraged which greatly assisted in the understanding of the subject. I would recommend the course to anyone interested in setting up an energy monitoring and targeting scheme – Tim Howard
  • A fantastic course to increase knowledge and confidence – Vicki Rees
  • A really helpful course which has enabled me to understand monitoring and targeting further – Alistair Mann
  • Very convenient location, informal, pleny of opportunities to discuss particular aspects and areas of interest, Fairly simple approach and not over-complicated, allowing everyone to keep pace. Some great take-away technical information. Time well spent. The energy monitoring and targeting training is a must for people new to energy management or those with prior knowledge. Some great and simple techniques to understand and inprove your energy performace, backed up with real world experiences – Peter Bowman
  • I now understand CUSUM! I felt it was very good at providing an overview and the theory.
  • Format, pricing and contetnt were all very good. Vilnis added a lot of depth to my understanding. If you are genuinely interested in energy management and making data-informed decisions, Vilnis Vesma will put you on the right track. – DC
  • I think the penny has finally dropped! – Gwen Kinloch
  • A very straightforward yet clever way of making sense of mountains of data. – Ben Foster
  • A great introduction to the fundamental techniques of monitoring and targeting. Highly recommended. – Darren Holman
  • Was very helpful for building confidence. – NKC

Book onto the next available course at

Frost protection: a point of weakness

Too often we see frost-protection thermostats set at too high a temperature, meaning that an unoccupied building will be heated for longer, and maintained at a higher temperature,  than is necessary for the purpose of preventing water services from freezing.

The diagram on the right shows how a common type of mechanical frost thermostat can be prevented from having too high a switching  temperature set. Or from being set dangerously low, for that matter. There is a protrusion on the dial and a series of bendable tabs is provided on a backplate which stop it at either end of the desired travel (in this case +2°C to +6°C). Your electrician will know how to do it.

Automatic control is one of the topics in our current season of energy technology briefings