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The energy label shows solar thermal technology in its best light.

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In the coming year, the EU wants to introduce the energy label for heating systems and water heaters.

As is the case with household appliances, the traffic-light labeling system is designed to help consumers choose an energy-efficient, economical product. As a representative of the solar thermal industry, Uwe Trenkner has been following the discussions surrounding the classification of individual heating technologies. In this interview he talks about the opportunities and problems associated with the EU labels for heating systems.

Mr. Trenkner, do you think energy labels will promote the use of renewable energy?

Definitely. The solar thermal industry has actually been very keen to be included in the labeling system, which essentially shows end customers that ordinary heating systems are better when equipped with a solar thermal system. For example, a condensing gas boiler that would normally receive a B class could achieve one or two classes higher, potentially A+, if fitted with a solar thermal system. This clearly shows the benefits of using solar thermal technologies.

Unlike single devices such as refrigerators, heating systems consist of several components. How has the Commission resolved this complication?

Indeed, I don’t think that political decision-makers had really been aware of this. It’s fairly easy to define the standard conditions and usage of a refrigerator. Based on these, standard consumption and efficiency levels can be determined. When it comes to heating systems, things are not quite so simple because they consist of different components which each have an influence on the overall efficiency of the system. This is where a good heating controller can come in useful by boosting the system’s overall efficiency by a few percentage points. Solar collectors and storage tanks can improve the rating even further. Overall, this results in a single value revealing the heating system’s overall efficiency. It’s quite a good solution. On the other hand, I think it’s rather unfortunate that heating and hot water combination systems receive two separate labels for room heating and hot water production respectively. The idea in itself is not wrong, but what are end customers supposed to do with this conflicting information? How are they supposed to evaluate a system that achieves an A for hot water production but just a B for room heating?

In your opinion, which systems fare particularly well under this method and which ones are graded too poorly?

I think it’s wrong that purely fossil fuel powered systems can achieve an A class. In my opinion, an A class should stand for something like “state of the art” and these days that quite clearly means renewable energy, i.e. solar or even geothermal energy. I think that the label for heat pumps is slightly too favorable. Otherwise, I agree with how the different technologies are graded in comparison to one another.

The trend is shifting towards combination heating systems, including pellet boilers and solar collectors to heat residential homes, photovoltaics-operated heat pumps, and combinations of log boilers for the base load and gas condensing boilers to cover peak demand. Do these solutions feature in the energy label?

Heat pumps are already covered by the label. However, their power generation is taken from the European average. Anything else would probably be unrealistic – it’s very rare to encounter systems with heat pumps that operate solely using solar power generated on site. In almost all cases, at least some electricity has to be drawn from the grid and it therefore makes sense to take the grid’s efficiency as the basis. The same goes for gas-fired boilers. The energy label doesn’t take into account whether individual boilers are fueled by biogas, for example. Wood boilers, on the other hand, have yet to be included in the current energy label.

If individual systems can now receive an A+, A++ or even A+++, what scope is there for future improvements? Can we expect an A+++++ class? Can consumers and installers keep up with this?

That was a major point of contention – and not just for heating systems. The European Parliament favored a clear gradation from A to G, but this would have meant having to reclassify products every few years. Technical advances would mean that devices that had originally received an A class would later have to be downgraded to a B or C. If you look at how long the debate surrounding the first round of labels for heating systems and water heaters has lasted, you can understand why people are reluctant to repeat this process every few years. The current system is less clear for consumers. That being said, it’s still possible to read up on the state of the art and see the efficiency classes achieved by the best systems. Perhaps this will make consumers think twice about buying an A class system on the basis of fossil fuels.

Particularly good ratings can only be achieved if solar thermal technology is also used. That’s great news for the industry. Do you think this will kick-start the boom in Europe everyone is hoping for?

The energy label is not a magic solution. It cannot get the ball rolling in the market all on its own. But I’m convinced that once consumers have gotten used to the idea it will have a visible effect on which heating systems are chosen. At least consumers now have a real choice: “Do I want an inefficient C system, or should I go for a condensing boiler combined with solar thermal technology classified A+ or higher?” It wasn’t previously possible to show this information in such a clear way. This will definitely leave its positive mark on the market.

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