The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a U.S. corporate agency that provides electricity for seven southeastern states, has announced incentives for ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) in commercial HVAC systems, the first type of rebates any energy company in the U.S. has given for UV.
The incentive is $30 per ton of cooling capacity for in-duct mounted UGVI systems and is focused on UV-C-band (100‒290 nm) emission to kill coronavirus and other pathogens in the airstream. It targets commercial applications including hospitals, schools, reception areas, retail establishments, nursing homes, churches, hairdressers, business offices, and industrial facilities.
“While hospitals have an immediate need to combat the spread of COVID-19, businesses across the Valley can look to adopting technologies such as UVGI as they find new ways of doing business,” TVA states on its website. “If you are looking to keep your personnel healthier and promote a safer environment for your customers, UVGI can quickly help your businesses by minimizing the spread of COVID-19. You might say UVGI is like a germ-killing super-ninja that trained for years to kill COVID-19 and every other virus and bacteria that it comes in contact with.”
COVID Leads To Cost Cuts
On average, an incentive of $30 per ton knocks the price of UV-C equipment and installation down by about a third, said Dan Jones, president, UV Resources.
“The irony of it is that for the last 20 years, UV has been sold for energy efficiency,” said Jones. “ASHRAE had done research here in the U.S. and down in Singapore that actually proved there was energy savings by adding UV downstream to the coil. You would have thought that would be what would make an energy company jump onboard, but this is for adding UV for air purification, versus trying to get rebates for energy efficiency.”
COVID-19 has become infamous for speeding up trends that would have otherwise been another decade in the making, and Jones believes more energy companies will follow TVA’s lead.
“We've been talking to energy companies for years now, trying to get them to do these rebates, and the challenge for them had been quantifying the energy savings,” Jones said. Now that the focus has shifted to infectious disease — energy savings isn’t even mentioned once on TVA’s UVGI information page —Jones predicts that the conversation around UV-C is “going to blow up.”
“This might be something that kind of turns that corner,” he said. “The Tennessee Valley Authority has the backing of the government; other places … are private companies, so you might not see them pick it up, but I think there will definitely be pressure to do that as we move through our new reality of COVID.”
Increased interest in UV-C will help contractors selling those systems in the commercial market, which Jones acknowledges has been an uphill battle.
“I think that what this will do is kind of push those folks, who maybe were on the fence about whether they wanted to add in the cost, over the edge,” he said. He predicts this will bring about a point where UV-C systems become as commonplace in HVAC systems as filters.
“Every air handler, every package rooftop system has a filter in it — you wouldn’t think of having a piece of equipment without a filter, right?” he said. “I think we're moving toward a point now where you wouldn't buy a piece of HVAC equipment without a filter and without UV.”
Will Demand Keep Pace?
Right now, demand for UV worldwide is through the roof — to the point where HVAC contractors who didn’t stock up on UV systems early on have reported trouble getting their hands on the systems their customers are requesting. UV companies and lamp manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand, Jones reported. One issue for manufacturers is a shortage of glass for the lamps.
“It’s at minimum tripling of demand for UV — it’s amazing, but it’s definitely putting a lot of pressure on the manufacturing plants; they’re obviously running three shifts,” he said. “This is something that, of course, every UV company has been striving for. The idea is [for UV] to be known out there in the world as something every building should have. Now we're at that point where every building is interested in it, and then you add a rebate program on top of that. I think this is definitely a tipping point.”
The shortage of UV equipment will likely persist in the immediate future, “but manufacturers are ramping up,” Jones said. “They think fourth quarter 2020 and starting into 2021, they'll be in a much better position to handle the demand.”