The news today is filled with stories about climate change, and corporate America is making pledges to take action. Recently, Amazon announced it will reach the requirements of the Paris Agreement within 10 years. This means a considerable investment in all aspects of a business, including HVAC systems for commercial buildings. This creates an opportunity for both contractors and manufacturers.
“More and more organizations are making internal or external commitments to address climate change and other sustainability issues,” said Clay Nesler, vice president of global sustainability and regulatory affairs for Johnson Controls Inc. “There is increasing interest in providing comfortable, healthy and productive workspaces for employees, students, patients and customers.”
Daikin Applied recently created the position of general manager and low-GWP program lead. Philip Johnston, the first to hold this title, works with different divisions to ensure the next round of products incorporate lower global warming potential products. Daikin has a large sustainability team, he said, that promotes employees to think about the environment and incorporate that thinking into their products and training.
Energy efficiency remains a top priority for sustainability-oriented customers for both environmental and economic reasons, Nesler said. As a result, variable speed technologies are becoming mainstream for this sector due to increasing cost effectiveness and increased efficiency.
Johnson Controls’ Choice rooftop units exceed Department of Energy (DOE) 2018 standards by up to 25 percent and already surpass future DOE 2023 part-load standards by almost 10 percent. An optional four-stage IntelliSpeed™ fan control further enhances efficiency, allowing it to deliver high IEER ratings.
Johnston said Daikin Applied has always looked to create innovation in its products when it comes to energy efficiency. He worked on the Rebel rooftop product several years ago.
“We were the first company to bring out a rooftop unit with inverter compression technology in both cooling models and heat pump models,” he said. “With that technology, we were able to meet the DOE’s rooftop challenge to produce super-high-efficiency products.”
HVAC systems are the primary consumers of energy for most buildings today, said Michael Hoppe, product lead on Daikin Applied’s Intelligent Solutions. HVAC systems make up two-thirds of the energy consumption for most commercial buildings. Automation, measurement, and analytics are helping to control this cost.
“New digital technologies, including the Internet of Things and smart equipment controls, bring owners and contractors many benefits, including remote monitoring and control, automated fault detection, ongoing commissioning, and environmental reporting for compliance purposes,” Nesler said.
Some of this is being driven by local regulations, such as a California law that requires wireless thermostats, Hoppe said. In the future, artificial intelligence will model energy consumption, and the HVAC controls will make decisions on when to ramp up or ramp down cooling or heating to use the least amount of energy.
For now, building owners need more information of how each piece of HVAC equipment is affecting their energy usage. Traditionally, it’s been very expensive to put power meters on every piece of HVAC equipment, Hoppe said, adding that Daikin’s new intelligent equipment provide needed data at a lower cost.
“If you can integrate the energy management of a power meter with the equipment and then provide equipment controls that build on that, to provide the trending automatically, now you have a much more attractive solution for the building owners,” Hoppe said.
GOING GREEN COSTS GREEN
Still, these advances bring an upfront cost, and overcoming sticker shock remains the biggest challenge for contractors.
“Selling greater efficiency and sustainability on first-cost basis is always a challenge, but selling the increased performance based on additional benefits for building owners and occupants can be a winning strategy ... [coupled with] awareness of the role that a high-performance indoor environment can have on increasing comfort, health, productivity and sustainability — and also an organization’s bottom line,” Nesler said.
Some hurdles for increasing sustainability/renewability are outside the industry’s control. Local building codes concerning refrigerant usage are one example; R-410A is the incumbent refrigerant used in most chillers, even though it has a higher GWP. Lower-GWP products, such as R-32 and blends of R-32, are currently labeled as flammable. ASHRAE has been working to develop safety standards, but building codes have been slow to adopt them, Johnston said.
Another challenge for the industry is making sure it avoids making matters worse while trying to make them better. The movement toward low-GWP refrigerants provides an example of this issue.
“They all perform slightly differently in terms of efficiencies and capacities, depending on what the blend is,” Johnston said. “The goal is to develop a product that has these GWP products, but also improves efficiency. If you lower your efficiency just to put in a lower-GWP product, you’re actually hurting the environment over the long haul.”
Johnston said he sees growing demand from customers for sustainable and renewable products. This is especially true in foreign markets. In the U.S., a number of states are pushing for more action on lowering carbon emissions.
“I think the market is saying, ‘We want to do this,’” he said. “We need to develop products that have lower global-warming potential refrigerants, but that also have high energy efficiency. In addition to that, we have to work with all our partners — the building world and customers — so we have very efficient building systems. That’s where we’re going.”
One example of where the U.S. is starting to catch up with other countries is heat pumps. Johnston said heat pumps are becoming more and more prevalent in North America. Air-source heat pumps make about 30 percent of sales and are growing, he said.
Contractors need to keep up with what’s happening globally in the industry, Johnston said. Their customers put a lot of faith in them, and contractors need the ability to explain how these new refrigerants and other products work.
“They want to be able to look to the contractor and trust that what’s coming is good and that they’re up to date and up to speed,” Johnston said.
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