PNNL in Richland studies efficiency controls for HVAC systems

April 12, 2012 

Adding efficiency controls to the HVAC systems of commercial buildings could cut their heating and cooling costs significantly, according to a new report from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Adding four different types of controls to combined heating, ventilation and air-conditioning rooftop systems would save supermarkets an average of $24,200 a year, strip malls $11,000 and small offices, $1,496, the report said.

"Our report makes a convincing case for manufacturers to produce more advanced HVAC controllers and for building owners to adopt these energy-saving methods," Srinivas Katipamula, the PNNL engineer who led the study, said in a statement.

The research was conducted using a energy simulation software. Next the efficiency controls will be tested in the field. Controllers will be installed at a PNNL building and also at various commercial buildings across the United States to measure real energy and cost savings.

The controls are not widely available commercially. But the analysis could help encourage manufacturers to expand their production, according to PNNL.

"The potential savings from retrofitting advanced controls on packaged air conditions with gas furnaces is enormous," Katipamula said. "The estimated savings depends on local climate and energy prices and range from a whopping 67 percent cost savings in San Francisco to a still-substantial 28 percent in Seattle."

The study looked at 16 locations with different weather conditions from Miami to Fairbanks, Alaska.

The controls considered included air-side economizers, which use outside air to cool buildings rather than creating cool air within HVAC compressors. Unlike the other three controls, some building codes already require them.

The other three controls allow fans, compressors and ventilation to be controlled based on conditions rather than operating at a constant or full speed. In general, installing a multi-speed fan control created the greatest energy savings in hot cities and demand-controlled ventilation created the most savings in colder cities, including Seattle.

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