“Clean Energy Revolution” puts building and product standards back on the Federal agenda

by Krystyna Dawson

The inauguration of the new President-elect, Joe Biden, marks the start of a period that could bring a substantial shift in US building-related markets. Air conditioning, heating, ventilation and controls are likely to face requirements from policy and market demand that will change dynamics in several segments.

Net Zero Emissions

With the President-elect’s Clean Energy Revolution announced during the campaign, the federal green agenda is set to make a strong comeback. President Biden signalled his intention to re-join the Paris Agreement, notably on the first day of his presidency, and outlined a national goal of net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050. Although less ambitious than the progressive Green New Deal target (net-zero emissions by 2030), with Congress now on his side he can venture putting his intention into law.

The President has promised a nearly USD 2 trillion investment plan, much of which is due to support green initiatives. He also promised to work towards achieving decarbonised electricity by 2035. Although during the campaign he was careful not to promote the ban of gas and oil fracking, his Clean Energy Revolution includes plans to improve energy efficiency in buildings and houses, and promises high investment in R&D related to zero carbon technologies to produce cutting-edge equipment for internal markets and export.

Even if not all of it might come to fruition, there is certainly a significant change of direction ahead in all industry sectors, including energy and HVAC in buildings.

HVAC Industry

During the Trump presidency, the federal government kept progress in energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment at a low level. This has been countered by initiatives in several states, like California, Vermont, Washington, Colorado Texas and Hawaii, which have been setting their own efficiency standards for a variety of products. Federal standards nevertheless cover a wide range of HVAC products. Hence, the re-activation of ambitious federal efficiency programs will be important for industry and consumers.

California will likely increase its influence on federal decision making, not only as Kamala Harris’ home state, but because of its leading set of environmental regulations and standards. Its Title 24 Building Standards Code that sets requirements for “energy conservation, green design, construction and maintenance, fire and life safety, and accessibility” that apply to the “structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems” in buildings might provide a template for wider adoption. The experience the state is gathering on the application of a variety of solar and heat pump combinations can support the uptake of these technologies on a larger scale.

Green Agenda

With the push towards energy efficiency in buildings, technologies that support their smart operation are likely to see dynamic uptake. Currently, smart buildings represent a niche market across the US, with just some cities in the North-East, Texas or California seeing their increased emergence. They usually belong to corporations who are keen to emphasise their green credentials, aspiring to achieve high sustainability certificates through building sustainability assessments like LEED or WELL.

The impact of the federal policy change on the building HVAC and controls market will not be instant, but waiting for it to become obvious might have serious consequences for market players.  The unfolding of the green agenda by the federal government will strengthen ongoing efforts of market stakeholders and demand from consumers as environmental awareness creates favourable conditions for the shift towards efficient, environmentally friendly products.

Refrigeration Part 1 – Choosing the right refrigerant

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Refrigerants are a key component for air conditioning and refrigeration. Since the 19th century there have been many refrigerants developed and used but none of them has as yet become the industry standard.

As an industry we should not consider reducing F-Gas emissions as just complying with legislation to meet government set targets, but reducing them will also have a positive effect on operating costs.  We can make cost savings through efficient operation and we can also help enhance market reputation by being more environmentally friendly.

To have a good understanding of this we need to look at:

  • Available refrigerant types
  • Our selection criteria
  • How we evaluate the available refrigerants

Traditionally commercial businesses have been using R12, a CFC, and R502a CFC/HCFC. In addressing the ozone depletion problem, most manufacturers have adopted either R404A a HFC blend or R134a. However, both are potent greenhouse gases (Nicholas Cox).

So the industry needs to look at future solutions which might be natural refrigerants, although some design change might be required on the equipment used. The following refrigerant replacements all require system and operational changes to current practice:

20140213_132647_resizedIsobutane (R600A) is a hydrocarbon , and hence is flammable. The thermodynamic properties that are very similar to those of R134a. Isobutane presents other advantages, such as its compatibility with mineral oil and better energy efficiency and cheaper than that of R134a. The use of isobutane requires minimal design changes, such as the relocation of potential ignition sources outside of the refrigerated compartment. Operational changes will also be required.

Propoane (R290). With a boiling point of -42C, propane is an excellent alternative to R22 as it requires similar working pressures. An added advantage is that except for added safety measures because of its flammability, virtually no design change is required in systems when switching from R22 to propane. The combination of its good thermodynamic and thermophysical properties yields systems that are at least as energy efficient as those working with R22. The use of propane is increasing in countries where regulations allow it.

Ammonia (R171). Ammonia has been continuously used throughout modern refrigeration history. Despite its numerous drawbacks, it is toxic and flammable in concentrations between 15.5% and 28% in air. It is not compatible with copper, thus requiring other materials of construction. Its thermodynamic and thermophysical properties also yield very efficient refrigeration systems. Because of its acute toxicity, stringent regulations apply for ammonia systems, which require close monitoring and highly skilled engineers and technicians.

20140213_132339_resizedCarbon dioxide (CO2) is not a new refrigerant. Rather, it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 90’s. The use of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant has gone back well over a century. Its application was abandoned in the mid-50s, with the widespread use of the CFC refrigerants, which were more efficient, more stable and safer. Due to its low environmental impact, low toxicity and non-flammability, CO2 is now regaining popularity from refrigeration system designers when an alternative to fluorocarbons is being sought. (Ahmed Bensafi and Bernard Thonon)

So there are alternatives on the market and technology development is tackling this issue it is now up to the designers and operators to specify something new to move the industry forward. With F-Gas regulation 2 coming we need to get ahead of the game.

We have tried to cover some of the available refrigerants seen in the market and we will be evaluating and discussing the selection criteria in our future blogs.

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