41 HPM 0413

HPM April 2013

WWW.HPMMAG.COM Got a story? Ring us on 01732 748041 or e-mail twood@unity-media.com TRAINING/TECHNICAL Visions of the past and future John Love, HPM’s technical expert, reminisces about a bygone age before digging out his crystal ball and predicting what lies ahead for heating systems... As a departure from my normally technically orientated articles, I thought that this month I would look at past predictions for our lifestyles; whether they have been fulfilled and what we can expect for the future, as far as heating systems are concerned. For those of you who were around in the 1950’s and 60’s you may well recall predictions such as super robots doing all the housework and cooking; of air cushioned cars controlled by a national traffic computer and whisking you along at speeds of 250 mph while you read your paper or watch TV; of people whizzing around in flying cars or with jet packs on their backs, following 'roads' in the sky; of communication by video phones; of intercontinental travel by space rocket; of clothing manufactured from plastic and paper and of pre-fabricated homes, to mention but a few. MASS POPULATION The home computer was predicted in 1966 with it being used for home shopping, looking after finances, including online banking, and instant communications around the world. If you are interested in reading about these predictions in more detail, do an internet search for ‘What Will Life Be Like in the Year 2008’. Some of these predictions have been fulfilled while others are still in their infancy, such as automatically controlled cars, and fortunately the mass population has not taken to the skies - as a pilot myself, the thought fills me with terror. One fulfilled prediction was the use of computers, although who would have dreamt of the extent of miniaturisation? I remember designing the cooling services for the UCL Computer Centre in London back in 1968 - a large room of around 140 sq.m. which was packed with banks of computing equipment. Nowadays, the same computing power is achieved with a laptop. On the domestic front, we certainly have a degree of automation in the house, but the level of sophistication is generally nowhere near that which was predicted, although the technology is certainly available. Twenty-five years ago I was one of the speakers at the BMEX Housebuilders Seminar, titled ‘Towards Tomorrow's House’. My contribution was to talk about the services and I spoke of the far greater use of mains fed unvented water systems, of increasing levels of thermal insulation; waste water heat recovery and water recycling; the use of heat pumps; solar thermal and photovoltaic technology - all technologies which were already being developed but, interestingly, I made no mention of LED lighting. The first practical LED was made in 1962 but it was not until the mid 1990's that the technology became viable for general lighting use. I also spoke of the development of integrated home management systems which would combine heating, burglar and/or fire alarm systems and domestic equipment controls, for which extensive research was already taking place, and of microCHP units, which were being developed in the United States. So why haven't some of the technologies such as waste water heat recovery and water recycling, the use of heat pumps (to some extent) microCHP and fuel cells 'taken off'? Those that have made an impact have often needed the assistance of financial grants, funded at considerable expense by all of us, in order to get them going. Of course, one has to accept that manufacturers are not going to start investing in the production of new equipment unless there is a sufficient level of demand, and so kick-starting the demand by way of financial incentives can be a sensible course of action. The early promotion of condensing boilers was an example. One of the main reasons why new technologies do not catch on is simply because of financial considerations. Capital costs are often high and the financial return relatively small and so there is no real incentive for the consumer to embrace the technologies. It is interesting to note that trials of new technologies often take place in dwellings which are very highly insulated and have very low energy loads, which are not representative of the vast majority of dwellings in the UK. Also, we are still a very energy demanding nation, whether it is for space heating; using copious quantities of hot water in our showers, or looking for high levels of lighting in our houses. It can, therefore, be difficult to meet the peak demand levels without using supplementary energy whether from a heating boiler or mains supplied electricity. Immediately, you start using supplementary energy, then the economics of the alternative technologies start to look far less attractive. One technology that I mentioned which has had an impact, although mainly in the upper financial end of the housing market, is the integrated home management system. Such microprocessor based systems control the operation of the heating, and sometimes cooling, systems and are integrated with the lighting control, alarm, communication and A/V systems. They can also control cooking equipment and the system can be accessed from anywhere in the world via a modem. I have clients who connect into their systems when working in the US and they programme their house to 'wake up' on their return. As far as heating is concerned, as I have said previously, the alternative technologies are not going to become really attractive and viable until we make a serious attempt to upgrade the insulation levels of our generally poorly insulated housing stock. The technologies for achieving ultra-high insulation levels do exist, but I doubt that the investment necessary to reduce energy consumption to a level which can be met by these technologies will be made until energy costs go 'through the roof'. One very recent development, which has a great potential, is of a material called Aerogel, which was first produced in the 1930's but was very brittle and fragile. It is a nano-porous translucent material principally made from silica and 96% air, and by altering the composition and structure of the material, it is now hundreds of times stronger than it was originally. CONVENTIONAL INSULATION Aerogel has the lowest thermal conductivity of any solid, retaining up to four times as much heat as conventional insulation, while at the same time being highly transparent to light and solar radiation. It was used by NASA in the Mars Rover in 1997 and kept the inside temperature at 21°C when it was -67°C outside. A 25mm thickness of Aerogel will have the same insulating properties as a window with 15 panes of glass with the trapped air between. As well as being a superb thermal insulator, it is also an excellent electrical and acoustic insulator. Aerogel is already being incorporated into sports rackets and building materials, such as sheet insulation and multi-wall polycarbonate sheeting. We are likely to see it incorporated into many product in the near future, including thermal clothing, but I believe the greatest potential for it will be for internal wall insulation of existing properties and for acoustic insulation between floors in multi dwelling properties where there are noise transmission problems between floors. John K Love CEng, FCIBSE., FIPHE., FIDHE., MInstR., 40 APRIL 2013 HEATING & PLUMBING MONTHLY


HPM April 2013
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