The path to sustainable heating and cooling (or "how to sustainably heat your business and keep your finance director happy").

Blog Sustainable heating and cooling systems for business

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are more than just a nice extra for the business. They can be key to keeping your colleagues comfortable, happy and productive. 

Every business knows that more energy-efficient heating and cooling is the way to go. Fortunately, there are a range of sustainable HVAC solutions, each with unique benefits and considerations for all. But you may worry about the costs involved in switching to more sustainable climate control - whether that's the cost of installing a new system or the cost of running it once you have installed it.

Well, here we will look at some of the more well-known sustainable HVAC solutions and try to address those worries. We think you will be pleasantly surprised, whether you own your business premises or a landlord renting them out.

Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs).

You can think of an air source heat pump (ASHP) working like a refrigerator but in reverse. Instead of taking the heat from inside (your fridge) and transferring it to the surroundings, an ASHP extracts heat from the surrounding outdoor air and uses it to warm the inside of your premises. One significant advantage of an ASHP is that it can provide both heating and cooling, which makes it suitable for different weather conditions. 

What do you need to bear in mind when considering an ASHP for your business premises? The upfront costs of an ASHP are higher than those of conventional systems, and their efficiency can dip in extremely cold conditions (around -15 degrees Celsius). That's why proper insulation will help to maximise the benefits.

Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs).

GSHPs work in a similar way to ASHPs, but GSHPs harness heat from the ground. They offer a reliable heating solution since they have fewer moving parts, which leads to lower maintenance needs. What's more, the lifespan of a GSHP can range from 15 to 25 years. 

However, the installation process is more complex and expensive than an AHSP. You will need land near your premises suitable for digging trenches or drilling boreholes for the necessary piping (boreholes being the costlier of the two options). 

What's more, GHSPs are only suitable for sandy or clay soils. So, it is worth getting expert advice before deciding. 

But despite the concerns over initial investment and suitability, GSHPs can help you make long-term savings and create a smaller carbon footprint.

Biomass heating systems.

These systems are a renewable alternative to fossil fuels that burn organic materials, like wood pellets or chips, to generate heat. They are considered renewable as we can replace the fuel burned by planting new trees. 

Biomass heating is also considered to be carbon neutral. This is because the same amount of CO2 is emitted whether the trees are burned or decompose naturally

But like other systems we discuss here, biomass heating has higher upfront costs than older, more conventional heating systems. Space is also something to consider. You will need space for the boiler and fuel storage. Plus, the fuel storage space has to keep the fuel dry. 

What's more, biomass systems need more frequent maintenance than other eco-conscious heating and cooling systems. 

Solar thermal systems.

Solar thermal technology (solar panels) uses the sun's energy to heat water, which can be stored and used for heating, washing, etc. 

Even though solar panel efficiency has improved dramatically over the years, these systems are more efficient in sunnier locations. You should also consider whether you have the space for the panels you'll need on your premises (they usually go on your roof). And remember, you'll also need space for a storage tank.

Cooling your premises.

You may not always feel it's the case in the UK, but it is worth thinking about sustainable ways to cool your business premises. Again, there are a few alternatives.

ASHPs and GSHPs.

Yes, we've already told you how air and ground source heat pumps can warm your premises, but they can also cool it when the weather is warmer. If you decide to go with one of these, you may not need to install an extra air conditioning system.

Open the windows!

Something as simple as increasing the airflow by opening the windows can help cool your workspace when it's hot. True, it's not the most controllable way to do it, but it is undoubtedly an inexpensive (and sustainable) solution.

Shading.

Installing blinds, shades, and reflective films on windows can also prevent heat build-up from direct sunlight. This is another relatively inexpensive and sustainable solution.

Greywater.

Systems that use water to cool your environment, such as heat exchangers that absorb heat from your air conditioning system, already exist. However, "greywater" equivalents use relatively clean waste water to do the same job. 

Green roofing.

A sustainable (and attractive) way to absorb heat is to plant vegetation on the roof of your premises. This also acts as insulation during the colder months. And you can irrigate it with any greywater you collect.

Help with the costs.

While there is no nationwide scheme to help with the costs of installing a sustainable energy system for your business, it is always worth looking to see if your local councils and government bodies offer help. You can start by checking with the official regulator, Ofgem.

And it's worth noting that if you generate excess electricity with your sustainable system, you could always recoup some of the loss by selling it back to the grid via the Smart Export Guarantee.

Future proof.

Embracing sustainable heating and cooling technologies is a step towards future-proofing your business and helping to create a sustainable future. While the initial investments might seem significant, the long-term benefits – from reduced carbon emissions to energy savings – are compelling.

Selecting the appropriate system for your business depends on various factors, including location, building structure, as well as financial considerations. Each option balances upfront costs with long-term benefits, both in terms of energy savings and environmental impact.

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Published 12/02/2024