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Meeting the expectations for HVAC systems of all types

02 September 2019

Managing and meeting expectations are essential elements of many successful business transactions and partnerships, arguably even more relevant where the delivery of hard services is concerned.

With HVAC systems frequently including detailed technical specifications, it is essential to inform the FM or those tasked with managing and maintaining them exactly what they are – and are not – capable of achieving.

This is not only essential in maintaining good business relations but will also be much appreciated by the FM teams having to manage their budget while delivering additional aspects related to hard services, such as improving energy efficiency.

The implications of these and other requirements mean that HVAC systems are expected to raise their levels of performance to meet these expectations. In recognition of this, PFM asked industry experts whether it is now reasonable to expect systems to provide improved levels of comfort within facilities while also requiring less energy to do so.

Daikin Applied UK product development manager James Henley says there has been plenty of discussion about the role of hardware, like solar panels and heat pumps, in cutting energy use and lowering carbon emissions, but there must now be more focus on ‘smart’ software.

“Smart connected systems enable us to continuously monitor a building using site specific information. This allows service teams to optimise plant efficiency, energy efficiency, comfort conditions, and detect any potential fault before it becomes a more serious problem,” he continues.

The wealth of data collected by remote monitoring helps service teams predict when a part is likely to fail so repairs can be quick and painless.

This improves convenience and reduces cost to the end user, but can also be exploited more widely to address the ‘other’ energy problem – the fact that more than 50% of the energy we already generate is wasted.

“Address that and you are already on a fast track towards a low to zero carbon future without forcing end users to make sacrifices to their comfort conditions.

“BSRIA estimates that the European market for connected HVAC will double in value by 2023 with a lot of this growth driven by service and maintenance. Chillers are the largest single product segment of that market and, as relatively complex and expensive pieces of equipment, represent the best case for investment in planned, strategic maintenance.

“Remote monitoring linked to a specialist service provider is an investment that will pay back many times over; reducing expensive downtime, extending the operating life of equipment, cutting energy consumption and maintaining optimal comfort conditions,” says Mr Henley.

Greater wellbeing awareness

Southern Maintenance Solutions (UK) contracts manager Terry Tarbox states that for years HVAC systems have just been “stand-alone systems that basically turned the heating or air conditioning up or down”.

However, as technology has improved, they are now far more sophisticated and worthy of the new BMS, building management moniker. This has coincided with a far greater awareness of the importance of staff wellness and the working environment.

“On a more practical, component level, the replacement of old style pumps with inverter driven types will go a long way to helping the heating system to work much more efficiently and thus saving costs,” he continues.

“Also, upgrading old boilers with condensing type boilers, a move that is being driven as much by legislation as energy efficiency, can also produce large savings.”

Another important factor for any FM is being aware of how the use of space may change within a building over time and the impact this has on the heating and ventilation requirements, says Mr Tarbox.

The maximum and minimum heat demands of a large, open plan call centre that it is occupied for 12 hours, seven days a week is going to be very different from when that same space comprised of single occupancy offices, where workers would have been based for no more than nine or 10 hours a day, five days a week.

“Being aware of these changes, understanding the need for adjustment and acting accordingly will ensure optimum comfort and economic energy consumption,” says Mr Tarbox.

CBRE Global Workplace Solutions energy manager Ian Shaw says: “The potential for HVAC systems to reduce energy and increase comfort is huge, but rather than focusing purely on the systems, we can best make improvements by educating occupants, engineers, operators and – especially – managers on the impact of set point/time schedule changes and poor maintenance.

“Often, we try to be too clever when we manage the internal environment through close control of temperatures, humidity and air flow, etc, with very small deadbands. Most HVAC systems then can’t react to changes in internal and external stimuli, and we waste energy trying to achieve unrealistic set points as we try to make everyone comfortable.

“By setting wider deadbands we can avoid over cooling in summer and overheating in winter, and keep most occupants comfortable,” he continues.

Mr Shaw further explains that setting wider deadbands also maximises the use of free cooling, heat recovery, night time purge and other aspects, which does away with most humidity control, saving energy. Letting set points drift to suit the conditions can improve plant efficiency.

“People expect it to be cold in winter and warm in summer, so we shouldn’t over cool or over heat and waste energy. During surveys we often find plant that is in ‘hand’, as that is thought to be the only way to maintain set points and stop complaints.

“Ageing plant can lead to reduced efficiency; however, the condition of plant and controls is more important. Reduced or poor maintenance of HVAC plant and reductions in maintenance budgets leads to poor plant performance, so energy consumption increases to maintain comfort levels. Managing maintenance and education is key to saving energy, and improving comfort,” Mr Shaw concludes.

Heat recovery fresh air systems

Thoughts on the major effect climate control can have on indoor pool environments, building running costs, carbon footprint and customer comfort are provided by Recotherm general manager John Harvey:

“Heating a sizeable body of water and air to around 30C in a large hall will impact the environment, fuel bills and the fabric of a building if not managed effectively. Additionally, if people aren’t comfortable in their swimming pool environment it can limit their enjoyment substantially and retention as a customer,” he continues.

Chemical odours, stuffiness and condensation with older recirculation-based systems can ruin a well-designed pool. Many hotels and commercial users have turned to heat recovery fresh air systems to improve customer experience, as well as bank balances, and their ‘green ticket’ stamp card.

“Fresh air ventilation has always provided the best atmosphere in a pool hall but was originally perceived as being more expensive to operate, but this has not been true for some time with the advent of engineered systems with modern controls and air-to-air heat recovery.

"Modern units have the latest control functionality with linkable or stand-alone BMS control managing fully modulating fans, fully modulating dampers and fully modulating heating valves to ensure accurate climate and energy management with a fresh environment.

“Considering that pool hall climate control could be in excess of 50% of the running cost of a building, products need to run at maximum efficiency when operating to save the owner money and make their pool a great place to be,” says Mr Harvey.

As a specialist HVAC system optimisation technology provider, Hysopt UK sales manager Chris Davies says that over the past six years the company has completed over 100 optimisation projects in the education, health, district heating and other sectors, with the combined objective of both reducing energy consumption and improving levels of thermal comfort.

“Our experience shows that through optimisation of hydronic systems, annual energy cost savings of 30% or more can be achieved, while simultaneously improving the system performance from an occupant comfort level perspective. The root of the problem with many systems remains at the design stage, with systems designed on rules of thumb; over-sized; or have been added to over time, with little understanding of the impact on the overall system,” he states.

Resolving inherent problems is not easy in complex systems, even a medium-sized installation will have hundreds of balancing valves, multiple pumps, mixing circuits and control valves.

Changing the setting of just one has an impact on the entire system; and all possible variable conditions need to be considered, such as component properties, pressure, temperature, valve position, etc, and the installation also behaves differently under full load and partial load.

“Model-based engineering supported by powerful software allows elimination of oversizing and is able to predict the performance of any HVAC installation at the design stage of any new or retrofit project. More comfort, 30% Opex saving and up to 10% Capex saving are common results we have achieved with investment payback times between one and four years,” says Mr Davis.

Better technology and energy savings

Hemlow technical support manager and CPD trainer Dave Green states the best opportunities for HVAC systems are in new build and refurbishment projects.

The research and development into system design and performance, and great advancements in electrical efficiency, control strategy and operating characteristics, mean the future looks good for tenants and owners alike.

“Standards and legislation will in some cases force change, but with better technology and energy savings driving building efficiency, owners and occupies should embrace the technology and savings offered.

"It is possible, in many older, already occupied, operational buildings to improve energy top hats by looking at the actual consumption rather than the expected, to make sizable marginal gains without adversely affecting the internal comfort levels,” he continues.

With more monitoring of “system performance technology” becoming available – such as smart metering, smart sensors and reporting software – this can only get better.

“The more information we can share and evaluate, the more energy savings we can achieve. But, like buying a new car, if you drive everywhere in first and second gear and continually spin the wheels, the tyres will not last long and you will never achieve the fuel economy the manufacturers advertise.

“Occupiers need to better understand how their interaction affects energy consumption and the building’s overall performance. We need to invest in better training to give a greater understanding to the occupier of how a system works, what it can/cannot do, or the most energy efficiently designed buildings will never operate as designed,” says Mr Green.

Swegon UK and Ireland ventilation sales director Dene Kent says a well thought-out approach is required to make a building more comfortable for occupants. Good levels of collaboration are also needed between client, design team and equipment suppliers, he continues.

"Being able to measure a series of key indicators, including CO2 levels, temperature and relative humidity, and the amount of VOCs from internal sources wil allow the building engineering team to formulate a targeted solution.

"It also gives them the freedom to make best use of technical innovations like demand control ventilation (DCV) that can improve occupant productivity and well being - while simultaneously reducing energy consumption."

The availability of wireless networks means systems can be more easily configured, commissioned and controlled so the individual pieces of equipment that consume the most energy, such as fans and chillers, will work at their optimum level, Mr Kent continues.

"The first step towards development a positive and proactive strategy will be to understand the demands and goals of the building and then use the latest technology to configure a system that can be directly adapted to produce the required conditions without driving up operating costs.

"This is why DCV is proving increasingly popular. It can reduce the amount of fan energy used by up to 80% - and deliver an overall energy saving for cooling and heating of more than 40% compared with constant air volume (CAV) systems.

"This is because air, cooling and heating are supplied in just the right amounts, at the right places and at the right time based on the user's demand patterns," Mr Kent concludes.

Schneider Electric Digital Energy UK vice president Pradyumna Pandit says Britain can do better when it comes to HVAC: “Businesses are both spending millions in energy costs and generating tonnes of harmful emissions needlessly, because of outdated HVAC practices.”

Companies can cut capital costs while reducing operational cost by taking a smarter, more integrated approach to HVAC, he continues. When systems are connected and data is analysed in real-time it is possible to highlight the links between energy, comfort and productivity, as well as between HVAC performance and profitability.

“To cut down on HVAC waste, building managers must leverage best in class solutions. Smart sensors, valves and actuators – when embedded into the building structure and connected to its BMS – enable continuous monitoring of the HVAC system,” he says.

A centralised analytics function tracks both system and device health through BMS alarms and reports and can use remote connection technology to keep managers and engineers informed. They can be kept up to date with a prioritised report of required actions based on comfort and maintenance.

Using systems that allow cloud-based automated diagnostics, managers can pinpoint exactly which systems have irregularities before prioritising them based on energy cost, severity and comfort impact.

“Artificial intelligence can aid the process by identifying problem conditions and offering potential solutions. This enables facility managers to ensure maximum system uptime whilst identifying cost-saving measures and early warning of mechanical system issues,” says Mr Pandit.

Health and wellbeing productivity improvements

Vent-Axia senior product manager Allister Watson says comfort is a key issue and energy efficiency is essential to reduce energy and lower the UK’s carbon footprint, but it cannot be at the expense of occupier comfort. Indoor air quality, noise and thermal comfort are all integrally linked to staff performance.

“The health and wellbeing of staff has been proven to have a significant impact on productivity and, according to the Stoddart Review, happy workers are 12% more productive. This is great for individual companies but if we look at this on a national scale, just a 1% increase in productivity would add £20bn to the UK economy,” he says. “This is not something to ignore.”

This is backed up by a World Green Building Council report which showed that office design impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants, with a key area being good indoor air quality (IAQ).

A comprehensive body of research was drawn on and suggests that productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better IAQ.

If undergoing an office refurbishment, to improve IAQ and so productivity and wellbeing, it is vital to review ventilation requirements to ensure current ventilation measures are fit for purpose. This is especially important if a refurbishment involves energy efficiency measures that make buildings more air tight.

“The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) proved it is possible to both reduce energy consumption and increase comfort when it refurbished its London headquarters. Here wellbeing measures were an important element of the project in order to improve staff satisfaction, productivity and overall health and wellness.

“With the benefits of good IAQ well established, the UKGBC office now has an innovative ventilation system, which includes Vent-Axia’s Lo-Carbon T-Series fans, delivering a massive 750% increase in background fresh air provision. Good IAQ is essential since it is clear that a healthy, happy workforce is vital to a productive and successful business,” says Mr Watson.

Elta Fans head of sales John Bradley says hundreds of ventilation fans and units break down every day, coming to the end of their useful life and most ventilation equipment sold in the UK is for the purpose of replacing existing systems.

Those responsible for maintaining adequate ventilation, in order to protect the wellbeing of occupants and the building fabric itself, regularly have to make key purchasing decisions when replacing faulty equipment. This encompasses a wide range of systems, he continues, from a small toilet extract fan up to a large air handling unit (AHU).

“Opting for a ‘like for like’ replacement is the most common approach, which is understandable given the time and financial pressures on facilities managers. However, by exploring the alternative options available, they can potentially benefit from the latest technological advancements, helping to balance energy consumption and comfort levels in buildings,” he says.

It is estimated that replacing a faulty, conventional commercial kitchen extract fan and controller with an updated model of similar size and exact airflow control can improve comfort levels at equivalent or less capital cost.

“Crucially, it also has energy saving benefits of up to 20%, and associated annual CO2 emission reductions of a similar level. Additionally, there are annual heating and cooling savings as a consequence of more accurate airflow control, highlighting the reduction in energy consumption as a direct result of a more advanced ventilation system,” he says.

Replacing a faulty AHU that incorporates modest levels of ‘heat recovery’, with one of the new generation of AHUs that feature ‘heat and coolth recovery’, ultra-low energy fans, high efficiency thermal exchangers, and better levels of air filtration, can lead to significant improvements to the indoor environment, and substantial energy savings.

“Striking the perfect balance between comfort levels and energy consumption can be challenging, given the array of considerations that facilities managers must bear in mind when purchasing new equipment,” says Mr Bradley.

Reduced energy consumption

Remeha product manager Paul Arnold says replacing any old or inefficient boilers with modern high-efficiency condensing boilers and applying the appropriate controls is one of the most effective and cost-effective means of simultaneously reducing a building’s energy consumption, lowering running costs and improving comfort levels.

“As many UK non-domestic buildings still rely on dated plant, there is huge scope for energy savings from a relatively simple boiler upgrade – up to 50%, in our experience. Ensuring more reliable, effective heating performance also helps generate a more comfortable home and work environment. But it’s important to remember that the boiler is just the starting point,” he continues.

According to the Carbon Trust, inadequate or incorrect application of a boiler control can add more than 15% to energy consumption compared to a well-controlled system. A full boiler control strategy should include optimisation, weather compensation, multiple zone control and sequential control (on multi-boiler installations), in addition to full time and temperature control.

Ease of use is crucial if boiler controls are to be used to their full potential. The good news is that the controllers on advanced condensing boilers are now more intuitive and user-friendly, easy to monitor and re-adjust for more effective energy management.

The ability to set and adjust time controls more easily will enable FMs to match building use and occupancy more accurately.

“Separating out a building into different heating zones will similarly help use energy more effectively and efficiently, avoiding a costly, unsustainable scenario caused by heating an empty building. And as employee health, wellbeing and productivity rise up the business agenda, good control will make it easier to achieve and maintain the required optimum thermal comfort levels,” says Mr Arnold.

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