Contemplating the Future of Green
Energy efficiency continues to improve industrywide, but how far can it go?
In the HVAC industry, the phrase “better products” often means greater efficiency.
Contractors are challenged with presenting and selling the industry’s most efficient products to consumers. Manufacturers are largely responsible for improving efficiency within their product lines while at the same time ensuring their products are desirable, affordable, and ahead of all the other roadblocks the industry may throw their way.
Manufacturers have a wide variety of ideas on where efficiency may go over the next decade, and most agree efficiency levels are only set to increase.
“With the technologies that are being developed, I see efficiency increasing significantly in the next five to 10 years,” said Twila Bartels, business development manager, ERV and air control products, Ruskin Co. “For example, at Ruskin, we are integrating a lot of controls and upgrades with our energy recovery ventilation [ERV] products that will allow more monitoring or automatic response when an application demands a change in the air control or in the amount of air needed for the system.”
Jonathan Holloway, strategic marketing director, Danfoss, believes the industry is digesting rapid changes in efficiency regulations. In as few as five years, many categories of HVAC products will experience double-digit efficiency gains.
“But, to reach efficiency goals in the next 10 years, we need to move beyond improving component or equipment efficiency and focus on a whole-building approach to energy efficiency and smart energy use,” he said. “Manufacturers have done a great job of improving efficiency through component and equipment innovation, but we are now reaching the point of diminishing returns, which makes the opportunity to reduce energy consumption through strategic whole-building design significant. At the same time, the underlying reasons utilities and governments today are supporting higher efficiency — like managing peak demand, reducing carbon emissions, and achieving energy security — can also be addressed through smart grid initiatives, renewable energy production, and energy storage, so the carrot and stick of incentives and regulations may shift more toward the whole building or even the whole grid.”
Farooq Mohammad, director, product management, air conditioning division, Rheem Mfg. Co., is keeping an eye on the factors that may be the impetus for improvements and changes throughout the industry.
“The next 10 years will bring tremendous changes to our industry,” he said. “There are new minimum-efficiency requirements to meet, new refrigerants with much lower GWP [global warming potential] targets, and new test methods to rate all products. In addition, the housing side is trending toward smaller lots and tighter homes, which will drive our industry to achieve higher efficiencies in a more compact cabinet. It’s exciting to be innovative and to develop better and environmentally friendly solutions for consumers.”
Percentage-wise, David Palazzolo, outdoor product manager, Goodman Mfg. Co., estimates a 5-10 percent increase in efficiency can be engineered economically.
“Beyond that, the potential costs homeowners would have to pay could go beyond what they find acceptable,” he said. “It’s likely that during the next decade, new or improved technology might be developed that could both increase the efficiency levels of HVAC products and contain costs so that homeowners would be able to enjoy the benefits.”
Manufacturers largely believe demand for highly efficient products will continue to grow in the next several years.
“America has gone through a renaissance, of sorts, for energy efficiency,” said Tim Litton, director of marketing communications, WaterFurnace Intl. Inc. “Spiraling fossil fuel prices and an overtaxed electric infrastructure helped foster this evolution. Despite the fact that fossil fuels have recently plummeted and are at historic lows, energy efficiency has taken root in our nation’s culture. Buildings and the electronics and appliances in them are becoming increasingly efficient as technologies evolve.
“Competition in the market and government standards are two major forces that will constantly drive businesses to innovate, which will lead to more and more efficient products,” continued Litton. “The baseline of efficiency will continue to move upward and continue to set the bar higher and higher.”
Al Fullerton, systems leader, Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand, pointed out that energy consumption and its impact on the environment is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, and organizations are paying closer attention than ever to their carbon footprints and how their buildings’ energy use is impacting the environment.
“Many businesses are setting increasingly stringent climate and environmental goals to lower emissions and drive efficiency,” said Fullerton. “They’re looking for building systems and technologies that help meet these goals. As a result, there is growing pressure to provide more efficient designs that perform not only when they are first installed, but remain sustainable over the life of the building.”
According to a 2015 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey, consumers want to save energy and money but are most often looking for cheap and easy fixes, like sealing leaks, upgrading lighting, or just changing habits.
“Although a segment of the market will always seek to save energy and/or reduce utility bills, the greater consumer demand will always be for products that improve comfort and are easy to use,” said Holloway. “In the U.S., where energy is relatively cheap compared to most other regions around the world, regulations are the No. 1 driver behind energy efficiency.”
Manufacturers must be conscious of the fact that it is essential to stay ahead of the curve rather than simply following the precedent set by others. With that in mind, many are taking important steps to be at the forefront of energy efficiency and emerging technologies.
“Trane is focused on staying ahead of future efficiency standards and regulations by offering products today that are well ahead of regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Fullerton. “Navigant Research shows that commercial, residential, and industrial buildings are responsible for 47 percent of global GHG [greenhouse gas]emissions and 49 percent of the world’s energy consumption. HVAC systems are an important component in both, and Trane is aiming to reduce GHG emissions by providing options to use next-generation refrigerants without compromising energy efficiency or safety. The Ingersoll Rand EcoWise™ portfolio of products, which includes Trane® CenTraVac™ chillers and Sintesis™ air-cooled chillers, is designed to lower environmental impact with next-generation, low-GWP refrigerants and highly efficient operation.”
Goodman Mfg. Co.’s product teams attend technology conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and others to stay abreast of potential game-changing technology.
“We’re on the lookout for technologies that could be integrated into HVAC products and help consumers build on efficiency gains above what a high-efficiency Goodman air conditioning unit provides,” said Patrick Stevens, indoor product manager, Goodman Mfg. Co. “Additionally, a lot can be learned by looking at the technology currently in use in Australia and Europe. In short, we look internally for ways to enhance the technology in our products and outside the industry to determine what others are doing. Further, we keep our eye on developments and opportunities around the world that can be applied in our markets.”
Danfoss also looks to Europe for innovation.
“Danfoss has the opportunity to build upon our experience in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where regulations and standards on energy-efficient and climate-friendly solutions are more advanced than they are here in the U.S.,” said Holloway.
“We’re also investing heavily in innovative, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly solutions,” continued Holloway. “We’re preparing the industry for the future of green technologies. In a few months, the first U.S.-based Application Development Center will open in Tallahassee, Florida, which will enable our team of experts to collaborate with customers in a new way to continue pushing the boundaries of cost-effective energy efficiency and accelerate the next generation of low-GWP HVAC solutions.”
Mohammad and the team at Rheem believe the key to developing contractor- and consumer-friendly smart home systems is by embracing open standards.
“Rheem supports this today through its EcoNet Cloud interface,” said Mohammad. “Built around a robust application programming interface (API), Rheem and Ruud can provide simple remote control and diagnostic access to our products, which means contractors, distributors, public utilities, home automation companies, and other third parties have an unparalleled level of integration in whole-home energy-saving opportunities with our systems and products.”
However manufacturers choose to proceed, it is clear that energy efficiency’s importance to the HVAC industry isn’t going away anytime soon.
Publication date: 9/26/2016