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ERP directive – the beginning of the end for the non-condensing boiler?

Two people’s feet in socks warming them against a radiator
ERP directive – the beginning of the end for the non-condensing boiler?

With additional nitrogen oxide reductions to be introduced in 2018, emissions' standards will tighten further. We will discuss how LPG is set to have a significant role to play.

It’s been over a year since the introduction of the Energy Related Products Directive (ErP) and, with a multitude of new commercial boilers now being introduced to the market, we ask what the future holds for off-grid installations?

ERP basics

The ErP is a EU Directive, implemented by the UK Government in September 2015 to cover all new domestic and commercial heating and hot water products that are equal to or less than 400kW.

The reason? Like much existing legislation, the Directive aims to improve the efficiency of energy-consuming products and to help the Government achieve its targets of a 20 per cent reduction in energy use and a 20 per cent increase in the share of renewable energy by 2020.

Made up of two sections – Ecodesign and Energy Labelling – the Directive sees stringent efficiency ratings now applied to these products if they are to continue bearing the CE mark and be sold throughout Europe. These include minimum energy performance standards, nitrogen oxide and noise emissions as well as an A-G energy classification rating for products equal to or less than 70kW or with a water or fluid storage volume below 5,000 litres.

The second stage of the Directive is due to be introduced in September 2018, when nitrogen oxide emissions are reduced further still, placing even more stringent demands on new boiler equipment.

Of course, any focus on reducing carbon emissions is always welcome. It is good news for the end-user, as manufacturers are forced to design and build their heating products to the new specification, resulting in better performance and reduced energy consumption. Good news too for the manufacturer as it provides opportunities to offer new and improved equipment ranges to the market. And as consumers, we all hope to see the benefits, as lower energy consumption helps to cut the cost of producing goods or services.

2018 on the horizon

The legislation applies to new equipment only, meaning operators do not need to take any immediate action for boilers or water heaters that are already installed. However, with the average lifespan of a commercial boiler between 10-15 years, it pays to think carefully now about any installation that is around eight years old or more, in readiness for the September 2018 deadline, when the more stringent NOx emissions regulations come in to effect for space heating.

These additional measures will apply to the whole of the UK and the European Union and set maximum NOx emissions of 56 mg/kWh for gas and LPG boilers, with a maximum of 120 mg/kWh for oil-fired boilers

Bad news for oil boilers?

Customers operating off the mains gas grid must think through these implications carefully.

In particular, the 2018 deadline for manufacturers to improve nitrogen oxide emissions presents a particular challenge for oil boilers, and has meant that some existing manufacturers have already exited the market.

This is not to suggest that oil-fired boilers have no future at all. Clean burner technology does exist and is being refined continually, but it comes with a higher price tag; in fact some manufacturers’ predictions suggest as much as double the cost of a standard oil boiler.1 This may make some operators more cautious about investing in oil-fired technologies, especially when it comes to the ongoing service and maintenance of their system.

In addition, for larger, commercial sites using boilers in the capacity bands between 400kW to 1MWth, the ErP does not apply currently and the expectation is that existing oil boiler technology may continue to be installed. The alternative is for operators to specify larger systems that fall outside of the ErP and are therefore cheaper to purchase.

Such systems will be covered typically by the Medium Combustion Plant Directive (MCPD), which applies to all owners of combustion plant rated between 1 MW and 50 MW thermal input. Much like the ErP, the directive places limits on the concentration levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates in exhaust gases from affected plant, with the aim of reducing the background levels of these harmful substances, as well as monitoring carbon monoxide levels.

However, the 400kW to 1MWth loophole is unlikely to remain in place for long and the prediction is that the ErP capacity thresholds will likely be increased to 1MW by the end of 2016; so customers would be wise to review any capital investment thoroughly during this interim period.

The future?

LPG already offers a cost-effective energy supply, but as a cleaner-burning, lower carbon fuel to oil and with a mature market of condensing boilers readily available it is more easily adapted to meet the challenges of the ErP – now, in 2018, and as a viable long-term future fuel.

When you consider your next boiler investment, investing in an LPG model could certainly pay dividends.