The country’s commercial building owners could save an average of 38 percent on their heating and cooling bills if they installed just a handful of controls designed to make their HVAC systems more energy efficient. Says who? Says researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy‘s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), that’s who.
According to a recent report, the key to more efficient HVAC systems — which handle the heating, ventilation and air conditioning in buildings — are additions like air-side economizers, which use cool outside air to chill the building (instead of creating cool air with the HVAC compressor); supply fan speed controls that slow or speed up the ventilation fan that circulates the building’s air based on whether or not a desired temperature or amount of fresh air has been reached (instead of continually running the fan at full speed); cooling capacity controls that run the HVAC compressor at different speeds, likewise based on need; and demand-controlled ventilation that slows or speeds up fans and air intake based on carbon dioxide levels inside the building (instead of running ventilation fans at a constant rate).
Unfortunately, the controls that could provide these staggering savings aren’t widely available commercially at present, but the report’s authors hope their analysis will encourage manufacturers to expand production. “The potential savings from adding advanced controls to existing packaged air conditioners with gas furnaces is enormous,” said PNNL engineer Srinivas Katipamula, who led the study, in a statement. He goes on to note that the estimated savings for commercial buildings vary widely by region and local energy prices, ranging from a whopping 67 percent cost savings in San Francisco to a still-impressive 28 percent in Seattle.
The estimated savings such energy efficient controls hold for commercial building owners were based the researchers’ computer modeling and simulation of building energy usage, which allowed them to track the effects of various HVAC energy efficiency controls in various types of buildings over time. Using the building simulation software, called EnergyPlus, researchers created computer simulations taking into account 15 climate zones in 16 major U.S. cities.