‘We are headed back to Las Vegas with a vengeance’
ATLANTA, Georgia, 1 July 2021: ASHRAE hosted its 2021 Virtual Annual Conference from June 28 to 30, which the Society said saw 970 virtual global registrants exploring topics related to critical environments, building operation and maintenance, and plant and animal environments.
According to ASHRAE, the conference featured over 100 live and on-demand sessions with updates from Society leaders and virtual networking events. Top sessions included Fundamentals of Climate Change (Seminar 1), Keynote: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Built Environment: Update on ASHRAE’s Response and the Meeting of the Members, ASHRAE said.
According to ASHRAE, other highly attended sessions included topics on IAQ, energy efficiency and ASHRAE standards. “The 2021 ASHRAE Virtual Annual Conference brought our community of industry professionals together for a full slate of highly relevant and valuable content,” said 2021-22 ASHRAE President, Mick Schwedler. “The conference provided an opportunity to learn, share, and explore new ways to translate research and knowledge into built environment solutions that impact everyone. We are truly fortunate to be a part of this strong community that supports each other to accomplish great things. It is the power of this community that will propel us to future successes.”
According to ASHRAE, Day One included a final State of the Society and farewell address from 2020-21 ASHRAE President, Charles E. Gulledge III, as well as a Secretary’s Report from ASHRAE Executive Vice President and Society Secretary, Jeff Littleton.
“Plans for the January 2022 ASHRAE Winter Conference and AHR Expo in Las Vegas are well underway, and if you have any doubts about whether the industry is ready to reconvene in January, let me share some facts with you,” Littleton said. “Fully 90% of the 498,000 net square feet of AHR Expo exhibit space available in Las Vegas is already sold. That’s 1,200 exhibiting companies already under contract. We may have had to cancel the show and the face-to-face Winter Conference this past January, but we are headed back to Las Vegas with a vengeance. Put it on your calendar today – January 29th to February 2nd. We’ll see you in Las Vegas.”
ASHRAE said that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its Epidemic Task Force (ETF) presented an update on its global headlining work to share guidance on minimizing the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The keynote, titled ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic and Built Environment: Update on ASHRAE’s Response’, included a brief history and status of the ETF, as well as a higher-level discussion on non-HVAC issues, such as vaccines, data, transmission routes and reopening.
During the conference, ASHRAE’s Task Force on Building Decarbonization also gave an update on its progress, ASHRAE said. The task force was formed to develop technical resources and provide guidance in mitigating the negative impact of buildings on the environment and to the inhabitants of our planet, it added.
The conference was also an opportunity to honor retiring board members for their service. Further, the event saw a virtual installation ceremony for the 2021-22 Board of Directors and officers.
On the final day of the conference, Schwedler gave his address on the Society theme for the coming year, ‘Personal Growth. Global Impact. Feed the Roots’.
“We each are involved in ASHRAE for different reasons and volunteer in our chosen ways,” Schwedler said. “We do it because we grow – professionally and personally – and help others do the same. We do it because that global impact serves the world’s, as well as our personal, future generations. All this occurs because we are true to our deep, widespread and strong technical roots, grassroots and personal roots.”
According to ASHRAE, all technical sessions are now available on-demand to registrants for the next 18 months.
AHRI Board approves decarbonization general position statement
ARLINGTON, Virginia, 18 May 2021: The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) on May 14 released a General Position Statement on Decarbonization, advancing the association as a resource for states and localities grappling with how to successfully, sustainably and affordably reduce emissions related to the built-environment.
AHRI revealed the paper as noting, “The air conditioning, heating, ventilation, refrigeration, and water heating industry has a long history of providing innovative, high-quality, energy-saving, affordable products that enhance the comfort, safety, health, and productivity of businesses and people around the world”. It expresses AHRI’s support for “the ongoing, science-based transition to a lower carbon society, in which consumer choices for heating, cooling, water heating, and commercial refrigeration are the most energy efficient, environmentally beneficial available anywhere in the world, while maintaining appropriate and adequate levels of safety, health, comfort, and affordability”.
Stephen Yurek, President & CEO, AHRI, said: “Our member companies – which have more than 100 years of experience and expertise in product solutions, technology, and innovation – can serve as a valuable resource in helping the nation achieve a lower carbon society.”
The statement, AHRI said, comes on the heels of the success of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, passed by Congress in 2020, which provides authority to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the production of high-global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons and establishes a national phase down structure for the refrigerants that are widely used in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. That effort, AHRI said, more than 10 years in the making for the industry, is forecast to ultimately result in a 0.5 degree reduction in global temperatures over the next 30 years, even as it creates jobs and helps the industry’s global trade posture.
Systemair Group announces changes in management team
SKINNSKATTEBERG, Sweden, 12 May 2021:Bjørn-Osvald Skandsen, Managing Director, Systemair Norway, has joined as member of Systemair Group Management, starting May 12, Systemair Group said through a Press release.
According to Systemair Group, Skandsen has many years of experience in the ventilation industry and in Systemair. Before re-joining Systemair in March 2018 as Managing Director, he was holding a director’s positions in GK Inneklima – a technical ventilation contractor in Norway. Even earlier in his professional life, from 2000 to 2006, he had headed the Systemair Group’s technical support department and domestic sales in Sweden. Skandsen holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA in brand management. He currently serves as board member of VKE, which is an organisation for ventilation and cooling companies in Norway.
“Bjørn-Osvald is an enthusiastic and loyal business leader, with a strong passion for new technology and modern trade,” said Roland Kasper, CEO, Systemair. “I am convinced he will be a good asset to the management of Systemair. He will take a special responsibility for our heating division Frico – an area where he has good knowledge and previous experience.”
Rubber World Industry launches AED 90mn HVAC production unit
DUBAI, UAE, 21 March 2021: Rubber World Industry, which manufactures and supplies HVAC and MEP products and accessories in the UAE, has launched ‘United Air-Conditioning’, a specialised company with an investment of AED 90 million (approximately USD 25 million), which includes a production plant in Al Jurf industrial area, Ajman, to meet what it described as a growing demand for its environmentally friendly products. Rubber World made the announcement through a Press release.
The new manufacturing unit, spanning over 10,000 square metres, is part of the company’s expansion plans backed by the rising demand for the company’s cooling, heating and now coronavirus-related products, Rubber World said through the Press release. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said it saw a sharp increase in health and environment-related products, such as disinfectant chambers, HVAC filters, air cleaners, optimised HVAC products, and configured rubber insulation and ducts to limit the spread of the virus.
Muzammil Shaikhani, Managing Director, Rubber World Industry, while attributing the new milestone to the company’s customers, said: “I am grateful to our local and international buyers, who have put a strong trust in us, which kept our growth not only intact but rising. In addition, during the pandemic, Rubber World thrived rather than survived and launched United Air Conditioning to cater to the increasing needs of its customers. Our R&D quickly responded to the new demand for health-related products that people and businesses need to maintain health [and] safety and [to] contain the spread of coronavirus and its variants, and started manufacturing this line, which helped doubled our growth and created the need for a specialized production line.”
The new entity, United Air Conditioning will complement Rubber World in manufacturing heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, cooling, mechanical, electrical and plumbing products, parts and accessories for commercial and residential use in the UAE, Rubber World said. United Air Conditioning will focus on health and environment-related products, modified HVAC and MEP parts, such as rubber insulation and ducting lines, which have become essential in the current environment, Rubber World said. It will help in reducing emissions, improve energy efficiency and contribute to the climate change agenda, it added. Rubber World has two units in the UAE and one in Sri Lanka. The company said it plans to set up six new production facilities in South Asia and the Middle East in the next three years to cater to the needs of its growing customer base.
Rubber World said that United Air-Conditioning has helped it increase its range of products, such as cooler tubes and sheets, which are CFC-free and are designed for exposed pipe area, as commonly seen in supermarkets, hospitals and schools. Another key area of demand for United Air-Conditioning’s products is all types of flexible ducts and ducting accessories with a broad range of adhesive tapes, Rubber World said. Rubber World said it currently serves several customers, including Leminar Air Conditioning Company, Century Mechanical Systems Factory, Gulf-O-Flex AC Spare Parts Trading, Gmark Middle East FZC and Al Emadi Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Equipment.
ASHRAE 2021 Annual Conference to be held virtually
ATLANTA, Georgia, 17 February 2021: ASHRAE said its 2021 Annual Conference,scheduled to be held in Phoenix, will now take place virtually.
Making the announcement through a Press release, ASHRAE said the event (2021 ASHRAE Virtual Annual Conference ) is designed to provide the latest insights from industry-leading expert in the built environment. It will provide focused, actionable and innovative content to support HVACR and building systems professionals, it added.
“Our pivot to virtual conferences over the past year has been met with great success,” said 2020-21 ASHRAE President Charles E Gulledge III. “Engagement from members and industry professionals from around the world in these events is a testament to the quality of our conferences and the importance of staying connected within the ASHRAE community. The 2021 ASHRAE Virtual Annual Conference will be a wonderful forum to share fresh ideas and unique approaches to tackle the challenges of our rapidly changing world. I look to extending our digital connection, and I anticipate an immense level of interest and participation.”
According to ASHRAE, conference attendees can expect:
- Technical sessions from industry experts and thought leaders
- Online networking and social opportunities
- A chance for professionals to come together and connect with collaborators around the world
- A keynote presentation, roundtable decisions and expanded learning opportunities
- Updates and announcements from Society leaders
ASHRAE said additional information on the conference, including committee meetings and registration details, will be made available in the coming weeks. It recommended that those interested in the event could visitashrae.org/2021annual for more information.
GEA introduces BOCK HGX24 CO2 T
DUESSELDORF, Germany, 08 February 2021: With the new HGX24 CO2 T range, GEA BOCK is expanding its semi-hermetic CO2 compressor range with a specialised focus on transcritical applications in the lower capacity range, the company said through a Press release.
Cooling capacities from 5 to 26 kW and heating capacities from 10 to 48 kW offer flexible stationary and mobile use in applications for supermarkets, commercial and small industrial refrigeration systems as well as for air conditioning and heat pumps in buses and trains, the company said. With their CO2-specific pressure design of up to 150 bar (HP) and 100 bar (LP) and a frequency range of up to 70 Hz, the gas-cooled compressors achieve the highest EER/COP values within their application spectrum – with up to five per cent higher efficiency in standard medium cooling compared to commercially available compressors in this segment. “The new transcritical compressors have proven themselves in extensive internal testing and in numerous field tests with our customers and will be available from February 2021 – equipped as standard with all the necessary features for use with the natural refrigerant R744,” said Manuel Fröschle, Product Manager Natural Refrigerants, GEA BOCK.
According to GEA, the advantages of the new range for planners, investors and operators include significantly reduced energy and operating costs combined with a long service lifetime with low maintenance requirements, a wide range of applications – from medium- and low-temperature applications to high-temperature heat pumps – with reliable and flexible part load, as well as excellent low-noise and low-vibration running comfort with a minimal oil carry over rate. The basis for this, GEA claimed, is a CO2-optimised driving gear design combined with BOCK compressor technology. This includes, for example, the oil pump for a reliable lubrication system even under demanding conditions, including large permissible inclination angles of the compressors.
“Together with the compact dimensions, the low weight of only 116 kg, maximum, as well as standard market connection dimensions, the HGX24 CO2 T set new standards for transcritical economic solutions for smaller performance requirements in stationary and mobile applications,” Fröschle said. “In this regard, they support the fulfillment of important energy and environmental protection requirements, such as the European F-Gas Regulation or the global Kigali Agreement, and meet strict requirements of European standards and ASERCOM guidelines.”
According to GEA, the new range is now also integrated as an additional module in the free online planning and design software BOCK VAP (compressor selection program) and BOCK CO2 Tool (system and compressor selection program).
For special subcritical requirements in low-temperature applications with high operating and standstill pressures, GEA said, the semi-hermetic BOCK CO2 compressor program will offer the specifically designed low temperature cooling variant HGX24 CO2 LT (Low Temperature) with two motor versions from June 2021.
ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force releases updated Building Readiness Guide
ATLANTA, Georgia, 02 February 2021: With the performance of many HVAC systems in buildings still being evaluated, the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force has updated its reopening guidance for HVAC systems to help mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, ASHRAE said through a Press release.
“The Building Readiness Guide includes additional information and clarifications to assist designers and commissioning providers in performing pre- or post-occupancy flush calculations to reduce the time and energy to clear spaces of contaminants between occupancy periods,” said Wade Conlan, Lead, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force Building Readiness team. “New information includes the theory behind the use of equivalent outdoor air supply, method for calculating the performance of filters and air cleaners in series, and filter droplet nuclei efficiency that help evaluate the systems’ ability to flush the building.”
According to ASHRAE, major updates to the building readiness guidance include the following:
- Pre- or post-flushing strategy methodology: The strategy has been updated to include the use of filter droplet nuclei efficiency, which is the overall efficiency of filter, based on viable virus particle sizes in the air, to assist in determining the impact of the filter on the recirculated air on the equivalent outdoor air. This allows the filter efficiency as a function of particle size, using ASHRAE Standard 52.2 test results, to be estimated based on the expected size distribution of virus-containing particles in the air. This calculation is currently based on Influenza A data and will be updated as peer-reviewed research becomes available for the distribution of particle sizes that contain a viable SARS-CoV-2 virus. Additionally, a chart has been added to help determine the time to achieve 90%, 95% or 99% contaminant reduction, if the equivalent outdoor air changes per hour is known.
- Flushing time calculator: There is now a link to a view-only Google Sheet that can be downloaded for use, to help determine the available equivalent outdoor air changes and time to perform the flush. This sheet is based on a typical mixed AHU with filters, cooling coil, with potential for in-AHU air cleaner (UVC is noted in the example), and in-room air cleaning devices. Provided efficiencies of MERV-rated filters are based on the performance of over 200 actual filters from MERV 4 through 16, but the tool also allows users to enter custom characteristics for specific filters.
- The sheet also calculates the filter droplet nuclei efficiency, based on the cited research but allows a user to adjust the anticipated distribution of virus, as desired. It also allows specification of the zone (room) air distribution effectiveness from ASHRAE Standard 62.1 to account for the impact of the HVAC system air delivery method on the degree of mixing. Default calculations assume perfect mixing. Finally, the tool allows for the target air changes to be adjusted if an owner wants to achieve a different per cent removal in lieu of the recommended 95%.
- Heating season guidance: The guide now includes data to consider for heating of outdoor air and the potential impact on pre-heat coils in systems.
- Adjustments to align with Core Recommendations: The Core Recommendations were released in January 2021, and this guidance document needed to be updated to ensure that the information provided aligned with the intent of those recommendations. This included minimum outdoor air supply and filter efficiency requirements and their role in an equivalent outdoor air supply-based risk mitigation strategy.
According to ASHRAE, the guidance still addresses the tactical commissioning and systems analysis needed to develop a Building Readiness Plan, increased filtration, air cleaning strategies, domestic and plumbing water systems, and overall improvements to a system’s ability to mitigate virus transmission.
Empower reveals AED 901 million net profit in 2020
According to Empower, performance in a nutshell
- Total cooling capacity crossed 1,640,000 RT, maintaining the position of the largest district cooling provider in the world
- Over 140,000 customers
- Total energy saving AED 3.4 billion in 2020
- A total of 350.474 kilometres of district cooling networks
DUBAI, UAE, 20 January 2020: Emirates Central Cooling Systems Corporation (Empower) reported a net profit of AED 901 million, with a total revenue of AED 2.26 billion in 2020. Making the announcement through a Press release, Empower said its revenues grew by three per cent, with a net profit increase of 3.4% year-over-year (YoY). Empower added that the performance has been commendable, given the difficult economic conditions resulting from the global pandemic.
Commenting on Empower’s financial results at the annual press conference, Ahmad Bin Shafar, CEO, Empower, said: “2020 has been another successful year for Empower, with growth in its financial as well as operational performance, which is clearly evident from increase in revenues and net profit, additions in the number of district cooling plants, expansion of district cooling pipeline network, increase in customer base and the number of buildings connected with our district cooling services.”
According to Empower, the number of buildings it provides with its district cooling services exceeded 1,252, and the customer base has reached more than 140,000. The total cooling capacity has reached 1,640,000 Refrigeration Tons (RT) during 2020 that covered various projects, such as Deira Waterfront, Blue Waters, Jumeirah Group, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai International Financial Centre, Business Bay, Dubai Healthcare City, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Palm Jumeirah, Discovery Gardens, Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai Design District and International Media Production Zone, amongst others, the utility said.
“Empower has also saved a total of 1,312 MW of electricity worth AED 3.4 billion, as of the end of 2020,” Bin Shafar said.
On the sidelines of the press conference, Bin Shafar also said: “We are proud of our achievements in terms of increased number of district cooling plants that has reached 84 plants across Dubai, including the world’s first unmanned district cooling plant in Jumeirah Village Circle project, along with having the largest district cooling network.
“Empower is committed towards efficient utilization of energy resources and supporting its customers and real estate developers, by providing high-quality and eco-friendly district cooling services.”
Bin Shafar also stated that Empower had reduced its fuel surcharge rates by approximately 25%, effective December 1, 2020, in line with the initiative of the Dubai’s Supreme Council of Energy.
He added: “We will continue our endeavors in 2021 to increase the number of district cooling plants and expand our district cooling network across Dubai.”
Building for the “new normal”
As the world continues to grapple with an ever-shifting economic landscape, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders in the building sector across the GCC region have observed how the pandemic has triggered an evaluation and reassessment of priorities. Ashok Jha, Head FM and Retrofit Projects, Universal Voltas, points out that the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 has prompted many organisations to take actions they have been putting off for some time, including launching new digital services and evolving their business models, enabling greater flexibility in their working and implementing cost optimisation measures.
However, Jha says, perhaps the most notable trend would be the move towards a greater number of retrofit projects in the region. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil prices plummeted to one of the lowest levels and government revenues went down in the GCC region,” he says. “This has led to reduced spending across all sectors, including new construction, with the current market seeing greater push towards shallow retrofitting, deep retrofitting, energy conservation and reducing the building carbon footprint in the existing buildings to make them more sustainable.” Jha says that since the number of existing buildings in Oman, Kuwait and the UAE is very high compared to new buildings, there was also a need to address the physical deterioration of the buildings, due to functional and economic obsolescence, and to make them more sustainable. “Because of this, there is a surge in demand for the retrofitting of the existing buildings across the GCC region,” he says (see sidebar).
Andrea Di Gregorio, Executive Director, Reem, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality, also believes the region is poised to see a strong pipeline of retrofit projects. “More focus is being put in refurbishing existing buildings, to bring them up-to-speed with the latest best practices in sustainability,” he says. “We see an increase in interest from building owners in retrofit activities, and we expect this interest to further increase throughout 2021 and in the coming years.”
Energy efficiency and sustainability
Another major driver for retrofits is the move towards energy efficient and sustainable practices, which has long been heralded by experts in the sector. Jha points out that because of the detrimental impact of buildings on the environment, with occupied buildings and the construction sector accounting for 36% of the global energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions according to International Energy Agency (IEA), the UAE has begun to actively transition into smart and sustainable cities, which has turned the focus on the energy efficiency of the buildings, specifically existing ones.
In addition to its impact on overall sustainability efforts, much of the move can be attributed to growing awareness on return of investment in terms of reduced operational cost. As Jha points out, retrofitting primarily refers to the measures being taken to replace legacy energy and utility systems with new and energy-efficient technologies. “These technologies not only reduce energy consumption and decrease carbon emissions but also lower maintenance costs, improve safety, enhance productivity, boost property valuations and also prolong the useful life of the assets and the building as a whole,” he says. “In a nutshell, we can say that OPEX of the building reduces and the asset value increases. Hence, it is becoming important day by day to retrofit buildings to not only make them more sustainable for the future but also to derive economical value by reducing the operational cost and, in turn, optimise the rentals and make them more lucrative for the tenants.”
Weighing in, Di Gregorio says that sustainable buildings often result in lower life cycle cost of the building itself. “If sustainability features are carefully selected, operational savings – in terms of energy and water usage and equipment maintenance – typically exceed any incremental investments that those features require,” he says. “For this reason, in a perfect market, where developers are able to fairly monetise their investments in higher quality buildings, we would expect for tenants any rent premiums for more sustainable buildings to be exceeded by the value of operational savings.”
Jha adds that as energy prices continue to rise, the relative benefits of energy efficiency will become increasingly important, and this is leading to a huge surge in demand for equipment, such as Smart LED lights and motion sensors, air curtains and FAHUs, energy-efficient AHUs, FCUs or split units and VAV systems. This has also led to greater demand for water usage reduction through the use of low-flow fixtures, sensors, waterless urinals and low-flush WCs, and also for photovoltaic panels on rooftops to generate electricity from the solar power, among other solutions.
A renewed focus on IAQ
While the return on investment (ROI) from retrofitting for energy efficiency is becoming clear, stakeholders are hopeful that the new wave of retrofits would also accommodate enhancements of indoor air quality (IAQ), which has been typically overlooked over the past years. Di Gregorio says that he believes this would be the case. “There is increasing interest in IAQ, partly driven by COVID-19 concerns,” he says. “Some awareness and technical barriers are there; nonetheless we foresee development in this area in the future.”
Jha shares a similar opinion. He says: “Fear of pandemic is looming large in the minds of the people, and therefore, while carrying out the retrofitting of their buildings, owners are ensuring that retrofit projects also take into consideration IAQ of the buildings, where people are currently spending more than 90% of their time and also to reduce the chances of contamination through virus, bacteria, moulds and fungi.”
Di Gregorio says there is a lot of focus on safety and security from building owners, particularly in what concerns disinfection of common areas. “This sometimes adds to other measures, like filtration, turning into improved air quality,” he says. Jha adds that some of the measures that building owners are taking include Demand Control Ventilation through C02 sensors, fitting volume control dampers, ultraviolet lamps in AHUs, ultraviolet germicide irradiation and MERV 13/14 filters. He further adds that there has been an increase in the use of humidifiers and dehumidifiers to maintain humidity in the range of 40-60%, where the microbial and fungal growth is minimal.
Jha also says that the majority of the offices are allowing their staff to work from home and that people are spending more than 90% of their time indoors. “This further necessitates that apt measures are taken by the occupants to ensure proper lux levels, ergonomics and IAQ, as these will have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing and, in turn, impact their productivity,” he says. “Hence, there cannot be a better time than now to address the Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) issues, if any.” Jha says these are the factors driving a lot of investment being done by the property owners in the built-environment to retrofit their buildings to ensure proper IAQ against the traditional retrofit, where emphasis was mainly towards energy efficiency.
Making a case for retrofits
Keeping in mind the tangible and intangible benefits of retrofitting, Di Gregorio believes there is more than enough evidence to drive building owners to invest in such initiatives. “If building owners are not thinking about retrofits, they definitely should!” he says. “Retrofit projects tend to have very favourable returns. We are observing that for comprehensive retrofits of commercial buildings in Ras Al Khaimah, the payback time is 3-5 years. And the contracting standards that are being adopted often provide forms of guarantees for the investor on those returns.”
Jha, agreeing, says that in spite of the change in the occupancy profile of buildings, property owners must continue to retrofit within the built-environment. “Retrofitting of existing buildings offers tremendous opportunities for improving asset performance in terms of utilities,” he says. “Retrofitting also offers a potential upside in the overall performance of the building through improved energy efficiency, increased staff productivity, reduced maintenance costs, and better thermal comfort.” Jha believes that such key drivers should serve as a motivation and incentive for building owners, who are on the fence about investing in retrofit projects.
A complete 180
In view of the shifting political landscape, how will the new administration affect the country’s commitment to climate change mitigation?
It’s going to be a complete 180 from the [Donald] Trump administration. In [Joe] Biden’s plan, he mentions “a historic investment” in upgrading four million commercial buildings to return almost a quarter of the savings from retrofits to cash-strapped state and local governments. Specifically, it says that he will “mobilize a trained and skilled American workforce to manufacture, install, service and maintain high-efficiency LED lighting, electric appliances, and advanced heating and cooling systems that run cleaner and less costly”.
Given our focus on energy savings, I think that this will be great for business as well as for building owners. Some suggest that large rebates may be involved to directly incentivise businesses and make it affordable to pursue these upgrades.
That being said, although the Trump administration was not at all focused on energy conservation, I found that individual building owners and managers were still pursuing these measures during the Trump administration. Most organisations in the US are interested in conserving energy and saving money. With government focus and incentives, it will just accelerate the demand.
In view of COVID-19, do you see a greater uptake of IAQ equipment throughout the country?
Yes, for sure. However, these things come with a cost, and with COVID destroying the economy, there is going to have to be some kind of funding or incentives given to get these types of retrofits in place. I will give you an example. Two of our clients in the US requested ultraviolet lighting proposals to be retrofitted into their air handlers and FCUs. We put together the proposals and delivered them; however, neither has been approved yet due to the difficulties these buildings are facing financially due to delinquent tenant rent payments and occupancy.
Another interesting fact is that most of these IAQ retrofits are not intended to deliver energy savings. That is another hurdle to getting these projects approved. One last point – and I don’t think this is limited to the US – customers in the UAE have also asked for ultraviolet lighting to be installed, and it is still difficult to get the approval here, for the same reasons mentioned earlier.
Has there been a heavier-than-usual concentration on the air side of things from building owners, tenants and manufacturers?
The EPA has recommended that guidance provided by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) for managing IAQ during the current pandemic be followed. ASHRAE’s statement is as follows: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
The two solutions we have seen implemented in the buildings we service in the USA are AHU filter upgrades and increasing the intake of outside air into the building. Both of these changes are very effective and relatively easy to implement as well as low cost.
How has the change in occupancy profile thrown everything into a state of chaos in terms of commercial and residential property requirements? Will this be a driving force towards more retrofit projects?
In terms of energy conservation measures, this has thrown everything into a state of chaos. One, the commercial buildings are hardly occupied, which has led to energy bills dropping dramatically. However, with less occupancy comes less rent, thus less money to invest in retrofit projects. In addition, building owners, who are still looking for energy savings, are hesitant to move forward, because they are not sure if and when tenants will be returning to the buildings, so to be honest, unless it’s a well-funded customer, this could actually slow the conservation efforts.
Residential buildings face the same issue. People are leaving the dense, populated cities, preferring the suburbs right now, leaving residential multi-family buildings unoccupied and no rents being paid. Until we get herd immunity with the vaccine, and people are comfortable returning to the cities to work and live, this will continue to be challenging.
How have these trends potentially influenced building owners?
As I stated earlier, most building owners are hesitant even if they want to move forward on new projects, given the current situation. However, some forward thinkers, with ability and the confidence that things will return to normal, are taking this time to invest in conservation efforts, so that when the buildings are occupied, they can take advantage of the maximum savings.
Have there been efforts to retrofit among specialised facilities such as healthcare?
At the moment, it is difficult to even get a meeting with a healthcare facility in the US. They are overwhelmed and have overcapacity with COVID patients and are focused on saving lives before anything else. Their priority right now is the conservation of life.
Has the pandemic finally trained the spotlight on the importance of having a balance between energy efficiency and IAQ?
I think that yes, people will be investing in IAQ, or at least investigating their options, especially healthcare facilities and the like. However, in my experience, to be honest, it’s a tough sale, unless there’s a Return on Investment (ROI) in the project. Having said that, UV lighting does have some energy-saving benefits, so maybe a combination of IAQ and energy savings should be highlighted to the building owners in the presentation of these retrofit solutions.
Retrofitting in Kuwait, Oman and the UAE
COVID-19 has had a significant adverse impact on organisations, people’s health, their livelihoods and the economy at large in the GCC region countries, says Ashok Jha, Head, FM & Retrofit Projects, Universal Voltas LLC. However, Jha is quick to point out that while the duration and severity of COVID-19’s impact on economies and sectors will undoubtedly vary, companies and governments in the GCC region have done well to set in motion a “look ahead, anticipate, innovate and adjust” roadmap, which has led the construction sector to focus on energy optimisation and retrofitting in existing buildings, which is a key to sustainable construction.
Citing figures from Global Data, a leading data and analytics company, Jha says that Oman’s construction industry contracted sharply in 2020, plummeting by nearly around -10.3%. “The industry is struggling with challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, low oil prices, and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades,” he says. Further compounding the downside risks to the outlook for the industry, the Omani Government has had to rationalise spending.”
Jha adds that given the limited prospects for the government to boost investment in infrastructure and other investment projects, a recovery in the construction sector is expected to be very slow. “Global Data currently expects the construction industry to fall further in 2021, with output contracting by -5.8%,” he says. “The fiscal plan by the Oman Government is intended to reduce public debt, increase the state’s reserves, and diversify revenue away from the oil sector.”
Owing to these factors, Jha believes that new construction spend will be very minimal, and more impetus will be on the retrofitting, deep retrofitting, fit-outs and energy performance optimisation in the built-environment in Oman.
Kuwait has faced similar challenges, Jha says, adding that the construction market shrunk in the year 2020 at about -9.5% approximately, as per Global Data. “The construction industry is struggling with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades,” he says. “Because of this, focus is more towards existing buildings in Kuwait.”
Jha adds that within the built-environment in Kuwait, residential buildings constitute around 81%, commercial buildings are 11%, whereas government buildings constitute four per cent; the remaining four per cent includes commercial, industrial, agricultural and services. “Also, Kuwait has one of the highest per capita electricity consumption and carbon footprint globally, which further necessitates the retrofitting of the buildings to make them more sustainable,” he says. “All the above factors, along with the economic strain, is forcing Kuwait to focus on energy conservation, deep retrofitting, retrofitting and fit-outs in the built-environment with a very minimal spending on new construction.”
Sharing observations on the UAE market, in particular, Jha says that the COVID-19 outbreak, coupled with low oil prices, has led the construction output in the UAE to contract by nearly 4.8% in 2020, but that a rebound is expected in 2021, as per Global Data. “New project opportunities are expected to be minimal in the coming quarters, as the government is consolidating its widening fiscal debt and COVID-19-related force majeure,” he said. “Over the medium- to longer-term, government investment will remain focused on upgrading physical infrastructure and reforming the financing and regulatory environment.”
Jha adds that the UAE has set high targets for building retrofit, which are reflected in the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy. “The latter targets an overall 30% reduction in energy and water use by 2030,” he says. “To support this, Etihad ESCO aims to retrofit 30,000 buildings in the next 10 years and generate 1.68TWh energy savings and around 5.64 BIG of water savings by year 2030.”
‘The UAE leadership has a view of the future – and it is not just tomorrow’
Congratulations on your appointment as Denmark’s Climate Ambassador. Could you speak on the potential areas of cooperation between the UAE and Denmark?
I think it’s remarkable the far-sighted leadership the UAE has taken as an oil- and gas-producing country. The leaders have a view of the future – and the future that is not just tomorrow, not just five or 10 years, but they are thinking ahead to 20 or 50 years from now.
We are talking about the major transformation of energy systems. The largest solar farms in the world are in the UAE, and a lot of investment is being done in this area. The country is taking energy efficiency in buildings seriously and addressing the challenge of having had, years ago, the highest carbon footprint per inhabitant.
In that sense, cooperation between the UAE and Denmark on energy and other topics related to food and maritime issues makes imminent sense. We are the country in the EU with the largest oil -production. We have oil and gas in the North Sea. But we are slowly ending our exploration of that oil and gas, and in December 2020, the Danish Parliament decided to end fossil extraction in the North Sea by 2050 with a plan for the just transition of impacted workers and a conversion of the oil and gas fields to Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)].
There is also a huge market for renewable energy, globally, as this transformation [can be seen] worldwide. In Denmark, we are building better and taller wind farms and offshore wind farms, including over the next two years in two new energy islands. As a result, there has been global interest surrounding Danish windfarm operators and wind constructors, many of whom are now in demand in a number of countries such as the US, Korea and Australia.
Could you speak more about the competitive advantage that countries such as the UAE can have from specialising in sustainable cooling solutions, both in terms of developing the expertise within the country and in terms of pioneering solutions? Do you see this to be a growing market?
The world is undergoing an energy transformation, and the UAE is also very well positioned to be part of it and, in some instances, to lead this transformation. As such, a partnership with a country like Denmark makes great sense.
When it comes to the development of cities, it’s clear that if you look at trends as a whole, [the population] is moving from the countryside to cities at an increased rate. I think the latest figures from UN Habitat and other global organisations is that almost half of the human population lives in cities. We have been going from 30-40% of the population to half, and the trajectory is pointing towards a world where most of the people are in cities.
There have been large movements in the Global South. In China, you have more than 70 cities with more than one million inhabitants, and many are newly constructed with poor quality of buildings that need to be retrofitted and rebuilt. In India, you have a growing middle-class population, and this has led to growth of new buildings in new cities or more modern buildings in new parts of the city. The same trend can be seen in the Gulf region. For a very long time, Dubai was home to most of the cranes in the world. In Africa, large cities that are already big, continue to grow. In Indonesia, we see a population in the process of moving Jakarta to a new island, because it is sinking.
Basically, in many places, the built-environment is not a done deal. We are at the beginning, not at the end. It’s only in older industrial countries in the West that the city structure is permanent. I would think the opportunities for both new buildings and retrofitting are very large, especially in warmer climates, where expertise is needed in challenging environments.
For us, in Denmark, it’s more about reverse engineering our experience with energy efficiency and insulation, and usinge and applying them in the UAE. Also, there would be solutions we need to develop from scratch, based on the circumstances and the physical environment.
It’s clear that cooling also has some attributes different from heating. [In Denmark], some companies are experimenting with district cooling, but most are district heating, with a lot of combined power and heat plants. Also, some of them are doing this with garbage waste disposal and heat and power. With the more recent climate law, because of the move towards circular economy, we are now looking at recycling and reusing our waste rather than incinerating it.
What can further drive the development of expertise and solutions in the sustainability arena in a country?
A combination of energy pricing and embedding efficiency in building codes and regulation by central and local governments are key here. The building owner and operator might not be interested in building more efficiently because of the perceived cost, and they will try to defer the cost onto the tenants. That means rent goes up, bills go up, and they are not too happy either. That’s always a question for the less well off, that’s also the question of the fair and equitable distribution of the cost and benefit, [[when it comes to implementing sustainable solutions.].
In Denmark, people have been investing in energy efficiency because of energy cost and due to strict regulation since the 1970’s. Because of the cost of energy, there are huge paybacks at a shorter time.
In what ways can the public sector in the GCC region incentivise sustainability initiatives in the built-environment, both in terms of introducing retrofit targets and also ensuring new buildings adhere to higher energy- efficiency goals?
For one, I would say that educating the general public is extremely important, in terms of the cost, economy, sustainability and potential social benefits.
The very practical education of engineers and economists, integrating energy efficiency into curricula in the built-environment, so that you have your own skilled engineers and technicians ¨to operate systems, do the buildings and learn from it. It is a mentality and way of thinking. We have done it for the last 50 or more years; we didn’t do it before that. It took us a long time and heavy regulation, strong incentives and a lot of private discussion among government and private sector and institutions of higher education to get that sector to operate in an efficient and integrated way. I would encourage public policy makers to think through different dimensions of how to establish a cluster of knowledge and expertise. The young students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and they have to make it work 10-15 years down the road.
Baltimore Aircoil introduces Nexus Modular Hybrid Cooler
Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 21 April 2019: Baltimore Aircoil Company (BAC) has introduced the Nexus Modular Hybrid Cooler, which it claimed in a Press communiqué as being the world’s first intelligent, plug-and-play, modular, hybrid fluid cooling system. The Nexus, BAC said, is engineered to simplify system design and optimise water and energy savings, while providing the lowest installation, operating and maintenance costs.
According to the communiqué, the Nexus simplifies both the design and installation of fluid cooling systems. The units are up to eight feet shorter in height, have a 40% smaller footprint and are 35% lighter than traditional fluid coolers, the communiqué said. Modules are designed to be moved with a pallet jack and fit in a freight elevator – eliminating the need for special rigging equipment, the communiqué said. Structural steel requirements can be reduced by up to 50%, and permanent ladders or elevated platforms can be eliminated, the communiqué added. All fans, pumps, accessories and controls are factory-installed, and wired, for true single-point wiring, the communiqué further added.
According to the communiqué, BAC’s patented hCore Heat Transfer Technology delivers exceptional heat transfer performance, durability and longevity in a compact, corrosion-resistant package that has 65% less internal fluid volume and requires no passivation. The Nexus’ new, patent-pending DiamondClear design uses 60% less spray water volume than traditional systems, has turbulent spray water flow, and the spray water basin can be inspected while in operation, BAC claimed through the communiqué. BAC’s iPilot Control System, with patent-pending, embedded intelligence minimises operating cost by effectively balancing water and energy savings based on customer needs and preferences, the communiqué said. The EC Fan System, BAC claimed through the communiqué, provides superior efficiency as well as high external static capability, with a direct-drive radial fan and a variable-speed electrically commutated (EC) motor. It completely eliminates maintenance associated with traditional fan drive systems and delivers superior reliability, the communiqué said.
The Nexus has the highest uptime and reliability, the communiqué said. As standard, it is a passivation-free unit with premium non-corrosive materials to keep customers up-and-running with their projects at the most critical times, the communiqué said. Code compliance is also very important for our customers, so a non-combustible option that meets the most stringent fire codes will now be available, the communiqué quoted BAC as saying.
“This product highlights our leadership position in innovation,” said Don Fetzer, BAC President, “as we have created the world’s first truly smart hybrid cooling solution, with the ability to switch between evaporative and dry cooling in a modular compact footprint.”
Is Microsoft’s underwater data centre the future?
The Natick Phase One vessel was operated on the seafloor, approximately one kilometre off the Pacific coast of the United States, from August to November 2015. Thereafter the Phase Two vessel of Natick, deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney Islands, United Kingdom, in June 2018, aims to demonstrate that you can economically manufacture full-scale undersea data centre modules and deploy them in under 90 days from decision to power on. Could you give us an insight into what prompted the company to launch Project Natick?
Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud data centre solutions that offer less resource intensive options, rapid provisioning, lower costs and high agility in meeting customer needs. Essentially, the project is focused on bringing about a cloud future that can help better serve customers in areas that are near large bodies of water, where nearly 50% of society resides. The vision of operating containerised data centres offshore, near major population centres, anticipates a highly interactive future which will require data resources located close to users. Deepwater deployment offers ready access to cooling and a controlled environment and has the potential to be powered by co-located renewable power sources.
From what we understand Natick data centres consume no water for cooling or any other purpose. Could you speak a little bit more about what makes this possible without compromising critical data components?
Seawater flows through heat exchangers within the data centre. The heat exchanger is like a car’s radiator, which uses cool air to cool the hot water flowing through the car’s engine. We’re the same, but we use water to cool air. Very little cooling is due to the walls of the vessel.
Modern building cooling systems, including data centres, use city tap water for cooling. This use of water greatly reduces the electricity required for cooling, but this water use can be significant. Natick puts no pressure on city water supplies and instead uses seawater, which is then returned directly to the ocean, unchanged.
Could you comment on the unique challenges that come with cooling large-scale electronics in this context and how the company addressed them?
Today, each land data centre is subject to local environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, particulate matter, building materials and electricity supply, which differ significantly across data centres and across seasons. Natick uses the same computers used to deliver our cloud services from land-based Microsoft data centres today and, as previously mentioned, because Natick data centres provide a sealed environment, we can use a nitrogen atmosphere, with no oxygen and very little water vapour. This reduces problems such as corrosion and allows us to provide the computers with the same operating environment, regardless of where in the world we deploy.
How could subsea data centres contribute to the growing dialogue of optimising resources in operations in a sustainable manner?
The project represents Microsoft’s investigation in the numerous potential benefits that a standard, manufacturable, deployable undersea data centre could provide to cloud users all over the world. If successful, we are on the quest for a future where cloud data centre solutions offer less resource-intensive options, rapid provisioning, lower costs and high agility in meeting customer needs.
Natick requires no footprint on land, which is a significant issue in some locations. Being offshore allows us to bring the cloud close to customers even without this footprint.
Because Natick is more energy efficient, we put less pressure on the electric grid. We are investigating the idea of co-locating Natick with its own locally generated renewable energy. In this kind of configuration, we would be off-grid. The Energy Information Administration says long-distance transmission typically costs 5 per cent of electrical power, so this reduces energy use while eliminating the need for long-distance transmission, including the transformers required in this process.
As noted earlier, Natick uses seawater and, hence, doesn’t require city water. Drinking water is likely the most valuable resource in the 21st century.
Sustainable cooling vital for smart cities, says MIT professor
Dubai, UAE, 24 March 2019: Although cities occupy only two per cent of the world’s surface, they host up to 50% of the world’s population and are responsible for 75% of global energy consumption and 80% of CO2 emissions, said Carlo Ratti, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Founding Partner, Carlo Ratti Associati, during his keynote address for the ‘Design and the City of the Future’ event on March 19, at the American University in Dubai (AUD). During a comprehensive discussion on how IoT is shaping the built-environment, Ratti underscored the important role that sustainable cooling must play in cities of the future. “Fixing energy usage and occupancy is vital,” he said, “when you think about how much energy you spend cooling your homes.”
Ratti said trends in modern architecture are steadily placing greater emphasis on the importance of designing better ways to control temperature with minimum use of energy. This, he said, is especially the case in office spaces, which continue to evolve based on digital connectivity and individual requirements. Providing an example, Ratti pointed to the redesign of the Agnelli Foundation headquarters, in Turin, Italy, where Carlo Ratti Associati developed a customised environmental bubble that provides personalised heating, cooling and lighting systems to occupants throughout the building. By leveraging IoT technologies, Ratti said the building was able to optimise space and energy usage. While the company was deeply involved in the overall architecture of the historic structure, Ratti said the implementation of key technologies related to heating and cooling was done by Siemens Italy, which equipped the building with sensors for different data sets, including the location of the building’s occupants, temperature, CO2 concentration and the availability of meeting rooms.
Ratti said that he believes such an approach is scalable for other projects. “I really see it happening in high-end buildings,” he said. “Monitoring occupancy in a very fine way to create a climate around ourselves.” This, he said, is a best way to harness energy otherwise wasted from cooling in an inefficient manner.