Tuesday 21 March 2023

Having the gas disconnected

Having the gas connection removed from a home in the Netherlands costs €869, except that it's subsidized at the moment so costs nothing at all. What better time can there be to remove fossil fuels from your home ? Our gas supply will be cut off in a few weeks time.

It's taken us a bit longer than I'd hoped to get to this point but in a few days our gas supply will finally be cut off. We stopped cooking with gas many years ago, but we still had gas central heating and a gas hot water heater for our shower. It was the latter which stood in the way of getting rid of gas altogether as having no hot water in our bathroom at all, especially over winter, was not at all appealing. However we installed an electric water heater last month which then meant we no longer had a good reason to still have a gas supply to our home.

How much gas, how much CO2 ?
For some odd reason our energy company decided that our annual summary of energy usage should be over a period of February 23rd 2022 to March 11th 2023 this year. That's two weeks longer than a year and includes more of the cold days. The summary shows that we consumed 540 m3 of gas. That's considered to be quite low, but it's still a lot. 540 m3 of gas emits almost a whole ton of CO2 when it's burnt (multiply cubic metres of gas by a factor of 1.78 to find how many kg of CO2 are produced), and that's something that we really do not want to do.

An absurdly over-sized boiler

In February we used 48 m3 of gas, about a third of an average
apartment or under a fifth of an average "2 onder 1 kap" (semi-
detached) home similar to ours.
This morning I worked out that the water heater which we removed last month actually accounted for slightly more than half of our total gas consumption for the year. Subtracting the equivalent of 12 summer months (when the central heating is turned completely off) from the entire years gas consumption suggests that only about 245 m3 of gas was used by the central heating boiler last year.

Burning 245 m3 of Dutch gas (at 33.32 MJ/Sm3) releases about 8163 MJ or 2270 kWh of energy. Our gas heating boiler is a Radson EHRE 240 from 1993 with a rated output of 28 kW. It's been obvious for years that it was grossly over-sized - I had to take action a couple of years ago to make it shut down sooner to stop us from getting too hot - but it wasn't until now that I calculated how absurdly powerful it was. A 28 kW output with consumption of 245 m3 of gas suggests that over the whole year this thing only actually operated for the equivalent of about 3 days at full power, spread over the colder five months of the year when we needed heating. i.e. On average it was used for less than half an hour a day.

The beast awaiting removal
Because we put a lot of effort into insulating our home, we can now make our living room and dining room (i.e. most of the ground floor of our home) heat up slowly with nothing more than a 400 W IR electric heater even on very cold days. Clearly we don't need anything like 28 kW !

The boiler dates from before condensing boilers were common-place. Its rated efficiency is 83%. It also doesn't have a balanced flue but instead takes air from the boiler room in which it sits (getting rid of it means we can insulate that room properly and gain a small storage room on the top floor) and as the heated water we receive from it on the ground floor has travelled two floors down to reach our living room and slowly gurgle around the radiators we clearly don't get the benefit of much of the 2270 kWh of energy released by the gas as heat in our living room.

So what now ?
We have decisions to make. Even a few small resistive electric heaters switched on when we're near them would be a more efficient way to hear our home. A friend of ours has reported good results from using an air conditioning unit to heat his living room this winter, and that's definitely more efficient than a resistive heater, but it does make a bit of noise. We will also need some heat upstairs, in the bathroom, bedrooms, work room etc. We've also been working on improving ventilation in our home so fitting a ventilation system with heat exchanger where the old boiler used to sit on the top floor would probably be beneficial. We have decisions to make over the coming months: By December it'll be cold again. 

Hoping to reduce our energy bill further
Last year a quarter of the total gas bill of €1051 was the connection charge. This year our gas bill will be much lower but it won't be zero as we'll still have to pay the connection charge for however long it takes to be disconnected. While gas cost us €1051 last year, our total energy bill for the year was only €587 once we took off the amount that the energy company paid us for nearly 900 kWh of excess electricity that we generated with our solar panels, as well as various other compensations and apparently random things that I've never understood which always appear on energy bills.

Anyway, the energy company decided that we had overpaid by €180 so they're sending us money, which is of course welcome. Then they set our monthly payments this year to be a bit higher than they were last year, which doesn't seem very logical under the circumstances, but they did this last year as well so I'll again have to argue it down this year.

We already added two extra solar panels at the end of last year to roughly cover the water heater's consumption and our plan now is to add a couple more panels again which should leave us with about 1600 kWh per year free compared with last year which we can use for heating. Hopefully that will be about enough. If we end up generating about as much extra electricity as the heating consumes, then not only will we no longer have any fossil fuels in our home but our bills should also be well on the way to zero.

Of course it's impossible to work out exactly what anything will cost because energy bills are absurdly complicated. While we work out how to reduce our energy consumption and CO2 output, perhaps the energy company can put some effort into making their bills understandable.

Job completed earlier than expected

Update 11th April: Our gas supply was removed this morning. Two gentlemen turned up with a digger and made a huge hole in the front garden, removed the supply pipe and the meter from indoors, and then they made everything neat again. So that's it - we no longer have any fossil fuel to burn.

In other news, I took delivery of two more solar panels a couple of days ago. So in a little while I'll write something more about our solar power system.

Over the summer we installed our heating system, a poor man's heatpump. This was too inexpensive to attract a subsidy but it should be enough for us.

Update: Someone was wrong on the internet. Me. So I fixed it.
Somehow I initially made a calculation suggesting that the gas boiler ran for only five minutes last year. This should not have got past my own internal 'smell test'. The boiler actually ran for the equivalent for about three continuous days and the blog above has been updated to reflect this. The other calculations were correct.