How is the HVAC Industry Addressing Climate Change and Sustainability?
28 Sep 2020
Sustainability has been a core concept in the HVAC industry for decades. Environmental concerns often drive product innovation, for example. However, environmental challenges persist and there is ongoing pressure on the industry to respond responsibly. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What steps is the HVAC industry taking to address climate change and sustainability?
Twenty-five years ago, the industry began to focus on the energy efficient control of HVACR applications with the introduction of variable speed, especially on pumps and fans. Over the years unit efficiency improvements and lower pressure drops in the system design have further enhanced the savings of new installations. The use of energy-efficient motors is another way the industry has addressed the need to reduce CO2 emissions. An initial focus on permanent magnet motors was problematic because of the use of rare-earth materials. However, today’s environmentally friendly, magnet-free designs have achieved IE5 efficiency. Green building certification is looking at the material use in a building and how it is sourced and transported. I think the next iteration of that will be to look at scrap percentages, when there is a failure. With an EC fan solution, a motor failure means the motor, fan and variable speed controller all need to be scrapped. But a standard motor can be replaced easily, which is obviously a more sustainable approach.
Today’s customers, perhaps more than any generation prior, are active in the quest for sustainable HVAC equipment. Homeowners are very aware of the environment around them. They expect products and services that offer both efficiency and a lower environmental impact. Johnson Controls meets those demands with a variety of high-efficiency home comfort systems and ultra-low NOx systems. These products adhere to stringent air quality standards while reducing greenhouse and smog-producing gases by up to 65 percent compared to standard equipment. Beyond creating sustainable products, manufacturers must also actively seek to lower their carbon footprint. Johnson Controls is leading the charge in green energy by powering one of its largest manufacturing plants in the United States 100 percent on wind power. This initiative at the Wichita, Kansas, plant, will reduce our North American greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent as we work towards reaching our ambitious sustainability goals for 2025.
To address climate change, HVAC manufacturers have a responsibility to develop more sustainable, energy-efficient products that can reduce a building’s reliance on fossil fuels. At Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS), we are a huge proponent of strategic electrification, a multi-tiered plan to decarbonize the atmosphere by powering our built environments, vehicles and end uses with electricity from cleaner grids and renewable energy sources. All-electric VRF heat pumps are the most popular technology for decarbonizing heating and cooling. As technology advances, more specifiers and building owners are recognizing how heat pumps are practical and effective even in cold climates that previously would have relied on gas-powered furnaces and boilers. Across the board, we are seeing the HVAC industry push the built environment forward by developing products that will benefit consumers both today and long into the future.
With global, national and state regulations targeting the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), the HVAC industry is continuing to adopt lower-GWP refrigerants. In the US, refrigerant phasedowns are happening at the state level, and the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 24 states and Puerto Rico, has committed to reducing the emissions from short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) and HFCs. To that end, Emerson continues to develop next-generation compressors that are optimized for use with lower-GWP alternatives (R32, R454B). Additionally, new efficiency requirements are driving a shift to more sustainable solutions. The Department of Energy (DOE) regulations expected to take effect January 2023 will raise minimum efficiency levels, and Emerson offers fixed-speed and modulated compressors that enable higher system-level SEER and IEER efficiencies to meet the upcoming DOE regulations.
The steps the HVAC industry is taking to address climate change and sustainability are primarily through the adoption of new technologies. This key step has enabled the industry to improve existing building operations and reduce energy consumption along with associated carbon emissions. Technology (such as the use of IoT sensors) is being implemented in building control strategies, optimisation of time schedules, chiller/boiler temperature adjustments and overnight-free cooling. For example, integrating IoT sensors with Building Management Systems can automate HVAC services to provide just the right amount of heating, cooling and ventilation when and where it is actually required; i.e., when the building or room is occupied. This eliminates the need for HVAC systems to run at 100% during the whole day, which is traditionally how buildings are run. Such technological advancements can help reduce energy consumption by 50% and balance building operations in a more efficient way.
States and municipalities in the U.S. have identified two areas that are critical to addressing climate change: increasing the use of electric vehicles (EVs) and deploying energy-saving commercial and residential HVAC technology. The goal of these targets is to conserve and convert, first by reducing the use of fossil fuel, and then by converting to sustainable electric energy where possible. Panasonic adheres to all government mandates to reduce its carbon footprint, which often differ from state to state. California, for example, aims to have a 40% smaller carbon footprint in 2030 than it did in 2013. Panasonic’s wide offering of single and multi-zone heat pumps use an electric-driven refrigeration cycle to generate energy efficient heating and cooling. Units rated to operate in low ambient temperatures down to -15⁰F can provide primary heating during winter months and cooling in the summer, all while maximizing energy savings.
In recent UK government publications, it is suggested that heat pumps, integrated water, heating and electric systems, and heat networks are the way forward for viable, energy efficient technologies, with a reduction of dependence on more traditional high carbon systems such as CHP. The development and application of heat pump technologies within the industry are just one form of electric heating which could make significant contributions to sustainability and the long-term decarbonisation of heat. This could be in the form of traditional air and ground source heat pumps, or hybrid systems. It may be easier and less costly to implement the latest efficient and low-carbon HVAC systems into new buildings. However, change here alone won’t be enough to enable the UK to reach its decarbonisation targets. Innovation within the HVAC industry must continue allowing us to quickly work towards providing the technologies that are capable of delivering the change needed.
Environmental concerns impacting the HVAC market include energy efficiency, lowering CO2 emissions, and the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons, among others. As our Expert Panelists assert, industry players will continue to do their part in civilization’s continuing effort to preserve our planet for future generations.