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Electric heating is on the rise

Heatrae Sadia has noticed an increasing trend for electric heating to be used in urban high rise developments. Alan Clarke, technical support manager at Heatrae Sadia, tells us more about electric wet central heating boilers and explains what the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives (generally referred to as the ErP Directive) mean for the market.

When mains gas isn't available, or it isn't a practical option due to installation or maintenance issues, electric heating is an ideal solution. Compared to mains gas, there are generally few restrictions on the supply of electricity, and there aren't any flueing, condensate drainage or pluming issues to consider.

In addition, the maintenance involved with electric heating products is simple; this point is particularly important for landlords, as obtaining access for legally required annual gas boiler services can sometimes be problematic.

We have recently noticed a marked trend for electric heating to be specified as the preferred option for high rise developments. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in urban multi-storey flats and apartments in particular it is usually easier to install an electric heating solution than a mains gas appliance, especially as the guidelines surrounding concealed flues became tighter at the beginning of 2013.

Electric wet central heating
Fortunately, the electric heating market has moved on from the inflexible, largely uncontrollable night storage heaters that electric heating was once associated with. Heaters which store energy overnight and release it during the day (whether or not it's needed) are not an appropriate solution for today's consumer - and so innovative, sophisticated, controllable products that provide heating and hot water when the end user wants it have been developed.

One of the main advancements has been the introduction of electric wet central heating flow boilers. Compact, wall hung and efficient, electric wet central heating boilers are used in conjunction with conventional wet radiators or underfloor heating systems, and provide central heating on demand, when it's actually needed. They are controlled and operated by a programmer and thermostat, working in a similar way to a gas fired boiler. Our Amptec electric boiler even modulates in the same way as a gas boiler, improving running efficiency.

To supply hot water to all-electric properties, electric boilers can be teamed with direct cylinders. High-performance unvented hot water cylinders, which are fed directly from the cold water mains, will provide the end user with powerful showers and fast filling baths. Our Megaflo Eco can deliver up to 72 litres per minute of hot water, and there won't be a significant difference in performance if more than one tap or shower is used simultaneously (depending on the mains water pressure and flow rate coming into the property).

Product selection
Most consumers will want an electric boiler to be as comparable to a gas boiler as possible, not only in terms of user benefits like controllability but also operating life. There are various electric boilers on the market, but it's important to remember that they differ in terms of cost, longevity and quality. Low-cost electric boilers will quickly prove to be false economy, as after just a few years it's likely they will either need to be repaired or replaced.

Some electric boilers can have an operating life similar to a traditional cast iron gas boiler (which can boast a lifespan of around 25 years). High-quality products that last might cost more initially, but will save the customer money in the long run, while also providing peace of mind.

To ensure that our Amptec boilers have a long operational life, several key features were designed into the product. For example, we use solid state technology for the switching of the heating elements to ensure a much longer switching life compared to what is achievable using conventional electro-mechanical devices such as relays and contactors. We believe that only solid state technology is suitable for the typical switching life required for a long-lasting electric boiler, and we avoid using mechanical relays to switch the heating elements on and off.

In addition, the heating elements used in Amptec are designed to run at low Watts density, which is essential to prolong the boiler's life, and we chose copper sheathed elements, as in this particular application they last longer than other materials.

In addition to Amptec, Heatrae Sadia has also combined an electric boiler and a hot water cylinder in a 'one box' solution. Electromax provides full wet central heating and unvented domestic hot water from one compact unit. Factory assembled and tested and pre-plumbed, it's really simple to install.

Efficiency, Ecodesign and Energy Labelling
Since September 26 this year, electric boilers of up to 400kW (along with other types of space and combi space heater) have needed to meet minimum energy performance criteria in order to be legally placed on the EU market, in accordance with the Ecodesign Directive (commonly referred to as the ErP Directive).

And through the complementary Energy Labelling Directive, which has applied to space heaters and combi space heaters of 70kW and below (including electric boilers) since the same date, electric boilers are now supplied with energy labels, similar to those seen on fridges and washing machines.

The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives are part of the EU's plan to address major energy challenges. Back in 2007, the European Council adopted ambitious energy and climate change objectives for 2020: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent (rising to 30 per cent if the conditions are right), to increase the share of renewable energy to 20 per cent, and to make a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency.

This all led to the EU adopting the Directive 2009/125/EC: establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-related products (ErP) on October 21 2009.

Energy-related products use energy, or do not use energy yet have an indirect impact on energy consumption. They account for a large proportion of energy consumption across the EU and also have significant potential to be improved to reduce their environmental impact and achieve energy savings, which in turn leads to economic savings for consumers and businesses.

The Ecodesign Directive applies to energy-related products sold in the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors in the European Economic Area. There are dozens of product groups - called 'Lots'- under scrutiny, and so far the focus has been on those that consume the largest proportion of natural resources and energy, and therefore have the most potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The main focus is on energy performance in use, whether that is the energy the product uses, or the impact the product has on energy use once it's installed.

Being a framework directive, Ecodesign does not set minimum environmental requirements. These are adopted through specific implementing measures for each group of products in the scope of the directive, or through voluntary agreements. Implementing measures are introduced after a process of initial study and discussion of the proposed measure with key stakeholders and national regulators, and set specific, mandatory requirements - which are usually introduced for each product group in the form of EU regulations. Where there are conflicting laws in place, they are superseded by the EU regulation, so that the rules come into effect across the EU at the same time.

Manufacturers must meet the requirements of the regulation (conforming to the energy and environmental standards) in order to legally place their product on the market in the UK and other countries in the European Economic Area.

The Energy Labelling Directive complements and works in conjunction with Ecodesign, with products being given an energy label based on a standard laboratory test regime. This type of labelling is already seen on domestic appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines.

Due to the 'fuel factor' that is added to all electrically powered products, electric boilers are (at the time of writing) likely to have a D rating. It is important to remember - and to communicate to customers - that this is because the generation of electricity is currently viewed as carbon intensive and electric heating products are therefore penalised. However, we believe this is a short-sighted view, as at the point of use electric products are very efficient - Amptec, for example, is 99.8 per cent efficient.

Direct electric cylinders are also affected by Ecodesign and Energy Labelling; from September 26 2015 water heaters with a rated output of up to 400kW and hot water storage tanks with a storage volume of up to 2,000 litres have needed to meet minimum energy performance criteria, and those with outputs of up to 70kW and storage volumes of up to 500 litres respectively have required an energy label. All direct electric water heaters are likely to be in the C category, again due to the 'fuel factor' applied to electrically powered products.

Electric wet central heating boilers have really revolutionised the electric heating market, being flexible, controllable and simple and cost-effective to install, as well as having low maintenance requirements. They offer a viable alternative in situations when mains gas isn't an option, and are increasingly being specified as the preferred choice for urban high-rise developments.

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