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18.03.2014
At the time, the Government claimed they would massively reduce your carbon footprint and slash your fuel bills. But this problem is just one of many that have plagued this boiler design since they became popular in the Nineties. In a regular boiler, the hot gases produced when the methane fuel is burned heat water for your radiators, dishwasher, taps and so on. In a condensing boiler, a condenser claws back much of the lost heat because as steam condenses into water, it feeds heat back into the system. In 2005, the then-deputy PM John Prescott drew up a masterplan to help Britain meet its CO2 emissions targets, as dictated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
A 'boiler scrappage' scheme followed in 2008, which offered people A?400 towards the cost of a new condensing boiler if they replaced their old one a€” even if it was in perfect working order.
An estimated eight million homes in Britain made the switch, often encouraged by persistent salesmen who produced an impressive-looking audit offering a seductive assessment of how much money you could save by switching to a new, 'clean' boiler. But even ignoring the freezing pipe problem, it is clear that in most cases it makes no economic sense to scrap an old boiler that is still functioning.
For an average home, replacing even a very inefficient old model with the best new boiler on the market will, at most, save a couple of hundred pounds a year in gas bills. Explained simply, the water returning from your radiators back to the boiler has to be below 55c for the condenser to condense the steam in the boiler into water.
One impractical 'fix' would be to fit oversized radiators, which can warm the room to the same degree despite being slightly cooler. But fitting these hi-tech systems, which are fairly common on the Continent but rare in Britain, would cost thousands of pounds for most homes. So the message is clear: if you have an old boiler, provided it is working properly and is serviced regularly, you are almost certainly better off keeping it until it is beyond economic repair. If you're worried about your carbon footprint, just remember that the touted efficiency savings are theoretical figures and might not reflect reality. But most of us do not live in such homes a€” we have poor insulation and ageing pipes and radiators. There is no doubt that the great switch to condensing boilers was motivated by the best intentions. Thousands of customers are due money back after energy firms mix up imperial and metric gas meters: Could you be affected? Figure 1 shows the huge increase in world energy consumption that has taken place in roughly the last 200 years. With energy consumption rising as rapidly as shown in Figure 1, it is hard to see what is happening when viewed at the level of the individual.
In this post, I provide additional charts showing long-term changes in energy supply, together with some observations regarding implications.
There was a need to find jobs for returning US soldiers, so that the country would not fall back into the recession it was in prior to World War II. The US had a large oil industry that it wanted to develop, in order to provide jobs and tax revenue. Major infrastructure development projects were put into place during this period, including the Eisenhower Interstate System and substantial improvements to the electrical transmission system. To facilitate purchases both by companies and by consumers, the government encouraged the use of debt to pay for the new good. Figure 4 shows that there is a distinct “bend” in the graph about 1950, when population started rising faster, at the same time that energy consumption started rising more quickly. Figure 5 shows that the first periods a large percentage increases in energy use occurred about the time of World War I. A person can see that in the most recent decade (2000 to 2010), per capita energy use is again rising rapidly. We can see from Figure 6 that per capita consumption of oil peaked in the 1970 to 1980 time period, and has since been declining. Coal consumption per capita stayed pretty much flat (meaning that coal consumption rose about fast as population growth) until the last decade, namely the period after 2000.
If we look at the United States line on Figure 7, we can see that the most recent peak in US per capita consumption of energy was in the year 2000. A person would expect energy consumption to be correlated with the number of jobs for a couple of reasons. If changes in international trade caused US wage earners to be more in direct competition with wage earners from other countries, it would not be surprising if a smaller percentage of the US population has jobs, and that median wages dropped in real terms between 2007 and 2010. Figure 10 (below) shows world per capita energy consumption on a year-by-year basis, similar to Figure 7. Figure 10 shows that world per capita energy consumption was increasing until the late 70s, hitting a peak in 1977.


These emissions are not on a per-capita basis, but the graph illustrates what happens when the production of goods and services is increasingly outsourced to Asia, where coal is used as the primary fuel. If we compare the growth of CO2 emissions and the growth of energy use, both on a per capita basis (Figure 12), we see that the CO2 emissions grew more slowly than energy consumption in the 1970 to 1990 period, so the lines increasingly diverged. This divergence appears to result from the changing fuel mix (more nuclear and more natural gas, relative to coal) during the period. Even the period between 1980 and 2000 may be misleading for predicting future patterns because this period occurred before the huge increase in international trade.
Another false inference might be that per capita oil consumption has declined in the past (Figure 6), so future declines should not be a problem. The small amounts of new renewables to date should be of concern to economists if they are counting on these for the future.
The fact that things haven’t fallen apart so far doesn’t give the assurance that things never will fall apart.
The opinions of the contributors to Financial Sense® do not necessarily reflect those of Financial Sense, its staff, or its parent company, PFS Group.
As a result, today there are already eight million 'condensing boilers' in homes across Britain. As a result, every year some 1.2m old-style 'dirty' boilers are scrapped in Britain and replaced by this wondrous new variety.
Tens of thousands of people found themselves shivering as their shiny new boilers cut out without warning.
In cold weather, the pipe that takes waste water from the back of the condensing boiler a€” which isn't there in a normal boiler a€” freezes solid, shutting down the system and in many cases causing permanent damage. This can increase overall efficiency from 75% to as much as 93%, and reduce CO2 emissions a€” and your bills a€” by a commensurate amount. This involved a new law ordering that all new and replacement boilers fitted to British homes a€” some 1.4m annually a€” must from that date be of the condensing type. That sounds good until you realise that at A?2,000 for one of the better condensing models, a new one will take at least ten years to pay for itself.
In fact, if it goes wrong after four years, you are better off replacing a condensing boiler altogether because of the horrendous cost of the parts.
They also won't tell you that those touted increases in efficiency are theoretical, often not matched in reality. For most homes using standard radiators, this will probably not be the case a€” the returning water might be as hot as 65c, especially when the radiators are turned up in cold weather. Another solution would be to fit the latest radiant heating technologies, using pipes embedded in walls and floors.
The condensed water vapour produced in the new boilers is slightly acidic (as it contains dissolved nitrogen and sulphur oxides), which inevitably causes corrosion of the delicate boiler components and also leads to breakdowns. Parts will be cheaper, it will be less likely to break down and there is no danger of it stalling on the coldest night of the year.
In a well-designed, well-insulated new home that incorporates the latest heating technology, a condensing boiler might be more efficient. Remember, also, that manufacturing each new boiler has a 'carbon cost' in itself that must be 'paid back' by the new boiler. But that's small consolation if you find yourself shivering in a freezing house this winter, wondering when the plumber is going to arrive. To get a different view, Figure 2 shows average consumption per person, using world population estimates by Angus Maddison. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption shown in Figure 1 by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data. There is also a small spurt about the time of World War I, and a new spurt in growth recently, as a result of growing coal usage in Asia. One such implication is how economists can be misled by past patterns, if they do not realize that past patterns reflect very different energy growth patterns than we will likely see in the future. Prior to 1900, energy per capita did not rise very much with the addition of coal energy, suggesting that the early use of coal mostly offset other fuel uses, or permitted larger families.
US Non-Governmental Debt, Divided by GDP, based on US Federal Reserve and US Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Decade percentage increases in energy use compared to population growth, using amounts from Figures 2 and 4.
It is easier to see what is happening with individual fuels if we look at them separately, as in Figure 6, below. The fuel that has primarily risen to take its place is natural gas, and to a lesser extent, nuclear.
In the period since 2000, there has been a huge rise in coal consumption in China and in other developing nations, particularly in Asia.


Per capita energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP Statistical Data energy consumption and Angus Maddison population estimates. It is striking that the percentage of the US population with jobs also peaked in 2000 (Figure 8). First, jobs often involve using vehicles or machines that require fuels of some sort, so the jobs themselves require energy.
Year by year per capita energy consumption, based on BP statistical data, converted to joules.
There was a fairly long period until about 2000 where per-capita energy consumption was on a plateau. Since 2000, the two lines are approximately parallel, indicating no further CO2 savings given the greater use of coal again. Once international trade with less developed nations increases, we can expect these nations will want to increase their energy consumption in any way that is possible, including using more coal. For one thing, the past drop in oil availability may very well have contributed to the employment issues noted above during the 2000 to 2010 period in the United States.
For one thing, ramping up new renewables to amounts which can be expected to make a significant contribution is likely to take many years. There was a small increase in energy consumption per capita during World War I, but a dip during the depression prior to World War II. Population increased a bit with the first spurt in energy use, but did not really take off until the second spurt. This increase in coal consumption seems to be related to the increase in manufacturing in Asia following the liberalization of world trade that began with the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the addition of China to the organization in 2001. The passage of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 may have contribute to rising Asian coal consumption because it encouraged countries to reduce their own CO2 emissions, but did not discourage countries from importing goods made in countries using coal as their primary fuel for electricity. This was a period where consumers were shifting from oil to electricity where possible, a process that was typically more efficient.
Wind and solar contributions are not large enough to make an appreciable difference in CO2 levels.
The rapid energy growth allowed much manual work to be performed by machine (for example, using a back hoe instead of digging ditches by hand). For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war, and even to World War II. For another, new renewables require fossil fuels for their creation, so they are very much tied to the current system. While some countries may continue to grow using coal, other countries will flounder when hit by high oil and natural gas prices.
Part of the population rise after World War II may be related to the invention of antibiotics–Penicillin (1942), Streptomycin (1943), and Tetracycline (1955). Other reasons might include more education for women, and more women entering into the paid work force. I omit broadly defined biofuels (which would include animal feed and whale oil, among other things) used in Figure 2, and instead show a grouping of modern energy sources from BP statistical data. Thus, the fact that people in the US have jobs raises the demand for goods and services requiring energy. It was only in the last decade when production goods of many sorts started shifting to Asia and living standards in Asia starting rising that world energy consumption per capita has again begun increasing. Thus, there appeared to be considerable growth in human efficiency, but such growth is not likely to be repeated in the future. Furthermore, there may be Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issues, because most vehicles use gasoline or diesel for fuel and cannot run without it. It is quite possible that some countries will encounter major difficulties in the years ahead, even though they have so far been untouched. Use of energy to upgrade water and sewer services, and to sterilize milk and to refrigerate meat, may have made a difference as well.
What I show as “BP-Other” includes ethanol and other modern biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar.
Figure 2 also illustrates that a transition from one fuel to another takes many, many years–we have not at this point transitioned from away coal, and nuclear is still only a small percentage of world energy consumption. The precarious debt situations of a number of countries leave them vulnerable to disruptions.
Life expectancy in the US grew from 49 in 1900 to 70 in 1960, contributing to population growth.



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