New Clause 19 - Micro combined heat and power passive flue gas heat recovery devices

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:33 pm on 21st June 2011.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act consider whether it is—

(a) viable;

(b) cost effective; and

(c) desirable

to require all new boilers installed in domestic properties to be—

(a) (i) micro combined heat and power units; and

(ii) to include passive flue gas heat recovery devices.

(2) In the section—

“micro combined heat and power” means a combined heat and power unit designed for residential properties or other small buildings;

“passive flue gas heat recovery devices” means technology that can use the waste heat from condensing boilers in order to heat water.’.—(Dr Whitehead.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 20—Advice on benefits of passive flue gas heat recovery systems (PFGHRS) —

‘(1) For the purpose of enabling him to assess the benefits of PFGHRS in dealing with fuel poverty the Secretary of State must request the advice of the bodies specified in subsection (2).

(2) The bodies referred to in subsection (1) are—

(a) the Energy Saving Trust;

(b) the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group; and

(c) the Building Research Establishment.

(3) A request for advice made pursuant to subsection (1) may also include a request for advice as to how PFGHRS can assist in combating climate change.

(4) The Climate Change Committee must within 12 months consider and produce a report on the ways in which PFGHRS can assist in dealing with climate change.

(5) In this section—

“PFGHRS” means technology that can use the waste heat from condensing boilers in order to heat water.’.

New clause 49—Reduction of Home Heating Costs: Warm Front—

‘(1) For the purpose of reducing home heating costs the Secretary of State must, through regulations made by Statutory Instrument, provide for the installation of passive flue gas heat recovery systems in any properties included in Warm Front in which new boilers are to be installed.

(2) In this section—

“Warm Front” means the Government’s policy for dealing with fuel poverty entitled Warm Front.

“passive flue gas heat recovery systems” means technology that can use the waste heat from condensing boilers in order to heat water.’

This New Clause seeks to ensure that passive flue gas heat recovery systems are included as part of any new boiler installed under the Warm Front programme.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

The new clauses would require the Secretary of State to consider and produce within 12 months reports on the effectiveness of installing on domestic premises new boilers that are micro-combined heat and power units including passive flue gas heat recovery devices or, as in my new clause 20, passive flue gas heat recovery systems—PFGHRS.

The new clauses make modest changes to the Bill—so modest that they hardly dare point their shrinking little fingers at the last time the building regulations were substantially revised to take account of changes in how boilers might be installed in UK households. The change to part L of the building regulations, which was undertaken on the watch of a Minister whose name escapes me for now, was quite revolutionary in the difference that a modest change could make to carbon containment over a period of time. The change was that if people were considering installing new boilers in their properties, they should normally install condensing rather than traditional boilers. Yes, the change in regulation shaped and directed, to an extent, in that it backed a particular technology, but within a few years the result of its implementation was that condensing boilers rose from 15% of installations in UK properties to 85%. Each boiler saved 1.5 tonnes of CO2-equivalent compared  with its forebears. With 1.5 million boilers sold every year, this has been the single most effective measure for saving CO2 emissions ever passed in this House. That change alone saves some 0.4% of UK annual emissions per year.

After many years of, I think it fair to say, some false dawns in the development of microgeneration combined heat and power boilers for domestic installation, we could develop a mass market for such boilers. The change in emissions that would result from the installation of large numbers of such boilers—which heat the home, work efficiently and, with the conditions I mentioned, collect and recycle flue gases and produce electricity as a result—would be of a descending order similar to when part L was introduced in the early 2000s. There is a strong case for examining whether similar arrangements ought to be undertaken, so that such technologies could become widespread in UK homes, achieving a second generation of substantial carbon savings to follow what condensing boilers did only a little while ago.

Obviously, any such changes would need to be written carefully, as with the previous changes in building regulations, and for that reason the new clauses do not actually propose a change. They propose an examination of the change required and of how the new forms of boilers would work in conjunction with flue gas heat recovery devices to make the savings I have described. These are modest new clauses with enormous implications for a low-carbon domestic energy economy. I trust that the Minister will therefore jump with alacrity at the idea that they should be accepted.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I fully support the new clauses and the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. New clause 49, which I have tabled, differs from new clauses 19 and 20, in that it seeks to make the most of the end of the Warm Front programme as a way of kick-starting the use of passive flue gas heat recovery systems, so that the scale of production can be ramped up and the costs reduced. I understand that leading manufacturers have said that mass production of these systems could slash retail costs from the current £600 to as little as £100. When independent test results suggest an annual saving on household fuel bills of £80 a year, it is easy to see why the Minister said recently that it should be one of the products in the green deal, if it meets robust consumer and certification standards.

Even as Warm Front is being wound down, it will still install many thousands of new boilers over the next two years. The sooner these devices are fitted, the greater the benefits will be, both in terms of cutting the cost and from the perspective of reducing emissions. The recovery systems could also save water because they speed up the delivery of warm water to the hot tap, thereby reducing the amount of time that cold water is pushed through the pipes before the hot water starts to come through.

I have one final point regarding the inclusion of specific technologies through energy efficiency programmes. I was contacted recently by the Gas Safety Trust, which is concerned that, as homes become more energy-efficient, they will lose a certain amount of their natural ventilation. That could increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so the trust is calling for the mandatory inclusion of carbon monoxide alarms in all green deal packages. Given that the average cost of an audible battery alarm,  which would last for about six or seven years, is only about £15, that could be a cost-effective way of protecting people’s living and working environments, and could reduce the costs to the Government of both fatal and low-level exposure to carbon monoxide. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to that proposal.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I do not want to take up too much time, because I am conscious that we can expect another vote on the Health and Social Care Bill in the main Chamber. We support all three new clauses. New clauses 19 and 20 would be modest amendments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has said. We would like the Government to look at how we can promote more energy-efficient measures, and would welcome a Government report on how passive flue gas heat recovery systems could assist in tackling climate change.

We would also like the Government to look at the merits of the proposal in new clause 49. At a time when fuel poverty levels are rising, we want to ensure that the Government, with the very limited resources they have available, make best use of what funding is left in the Warm Front funding pot over the next two years. It has been cut by two thirds, and we want to ensure that the Government are doing all they possibly can to meet the 2016 fuel poverty target.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

New clauses 19 and 20 concern two technologies that, although in their infancy, have genuine potential to play a large role in driving efficient heating in the future. The technologies—micro-combined heat and power, and passive flue gas heat recovery systems—are different in application but have some things in common. Both have very low penetration of the market at present, low consumer awareness and, like many new technologies, can be rather costly. More than three years ago, I was renovating my house and putting in various green innovations, and I hoped to install a micro-CHP boiler. The technology, however, has not really come to fruition; it has been on the cusp of happening not for months but years, and we need to drive it forward.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and I share his frustration. We should do what we can to tackle the situation, and I fully empathise with the motives behind the new clauses. I should also make it clear that we already recognise the technologies in some of our support measures. Micro-CHP is supported under the feed-in tariff, and passive flue gas heat recovery systems technology—PFGHRS—could help its own cause enormously if it got a snappier name. We do not need to put that in the Bill, but I am sure it would be extremely helpful.

Micro-CHP is a new technology to the market, and domestic CHP units are the only non-renewable technology currently supported under the feed-in tariff as part of a pilot scheme. Many of us hoped that with the increase in biogas in the grid and the use of other low-carbon alternatives to ordinary gas, CHP could play a much more important role, not only as a low-carbon technology but ultimately as a zero-carbon one. The inclusion of the units in the pilot will be assessed as part of a comprehensive review that will consider all aspects of the scheme, including tariff levels, administration and eligibility of technologies.

The industry tells us that there are probably fewer than 1,000 micro-CHP units installed in the whole country—that is obviously why I did not get mine. That is in stark contrast to the 20 million gas boilers. I set those figures out not to be discouraging but to explain the scale of the challenge we face.

Tomorrow, the Department of Energy and Climate Change will publish its long-awaited microgeneration strategy. It focuses on tackling non-financial barriers to microgeneration—such as skills, technology, and information and advice—in the context of the financial incentives that we are putting in place: the feed-in tariff, the renewable heat incentive and, of course, the green deal. The strategy has commensurate ambition behind it.

I recognise that domestic heating requirements vary widely from situation to situation, and that a range of technologies will be needed to meet each situation in the most cost-effective manner. At present, I fear that it would be wrong to mandate the use of a particular technology if an alternative could deliver the same carbon savings more cost-effectively. We will, however, continue to monitor technological innovation across all technologies, including, among others, micro-CHP, passive flue gas heat recovery systems, heat pumps and solar. There is potential particularly for the first two of those systems, and we will genuinely keep them under review.

I share the desire expressed by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to see micro-CHP and PFGHRS develop alongside the other more mainstream technologies, but for that to happen effectively we need to establish the long-term potential of the growth of the technologies in the market. As such, I propose to discuss new clause 19 further with Members and invite them to talk about it with my officials. I intend to come back on Report with further details on how we will progress those two technologies, and on the course of action we propose in order to deliver that enhanced level of ambition.

On new clauses 20 and 49, I intend to have discussions with the organisations concerned to establish a meaningful dialogue and a much greater sense of ambition and momentum in pressing forward with the development of PFGHRS—including the move towards a snappier name.

I wish to say a few words about the important point that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion made about carbon monoxide, because cases involving it can be a matter of life and death. Considerable work has already been done, following a commitment made by my noble Friend Lord Marland in the other place. I have met the all-party gas safety group and a range of stakeholders to discuss their concerns in detail, and I am grateful for their help and expertise in assisting my officials and me in this matter. My officials then met industry stakeholders to think through potential solutions. As a result, we have decided to make clear requirements in the new green deal installer standards, which we are developing with the British standards institute. I have informed the group of my decision.

We think it unlikely that the green deal will affect carbon monoxide levels negatively; indeed, it will promote new boilers, which overall will help to reduce carbon  monoxide emissions. Automatically fitting a carbon monoxide monitor to every building as necessary could add to the overall costs of a green deal package and could hinder the golden rule. Instead, we suggest requiring green deal installers to assess the carbon monoxide impact of their work—that will not be discretionary—and fit a monitor where deemed appropriate. They will also be obliged to check any existing monitors to ensure that they work adequately and have not passed their use-by date. In addition, the energy company obligation will be covered by the same standard.

I very much hope that assures the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that we take carbon monoxide poisoning extremely seriously and that we are already engaged with the industry and will come forward with further details. I take on board fully the sense of direction, purpose, drive and ambition that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test seeks to inject into the technology agenda of micro-CHP and flue gas, and I assure him that although we are unable to accept the amendment, we are committed to finding other means to drive forward the technologies positively. On that basis, I urge him to consider withdrawing the motion.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 6:00 pm, 21st June 2011

When people are withdrawing amendments, it is customary for them to say that they are encouraged by what the Minister says and will therefore withdraw their amendment, but I am genuinely encouraged by what the Minister has said. It is good to hear that work will be undertaken on the two technologies and how they can penetrate substantially more deeply into the market. I look forward to those discussions and examinations, and on that basis, I am happy to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

Do you intend not to press the new clause?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

My comments would be along the lines of those of the hon. Gentleman. On the basis of the assurances given, I am happy not to press the new clause.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.