The federal requirements for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are about to become much stricter. Starting January 1, 2015, residential split system heat pumps, single package air conditioners, and single package heat pumps in the United States must have seasonal energy efficiency ratios (SEERs) of 14, an 8% increase in efficiency over the current SEER requirement of 13. The SEER rating is used to gauge the operating efficiency of cooling systems. It is the ratio of the cooling output of equipment over a cooling season divided by the electrical input. Indeed, driven in part by tightening regulations but also by a larger push toward greater energy efficiency, HVAC equipment is undergoing substantial changes. When minimum SEER requirements increased in the United States from 10 to 13 in 2006, innovations in compressors, refrigerants, and system design drove efficiency improvements. Today, several air conditioner options provide efficiency in excess of 20 SEER.
Unfortunately, there are natural limitations on efficiency gains that can be made on current equipment. As a result, new, more efficient HVAC equipment, such as variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems, is gaining market share in the United States. VRF systems represent a paradigm shift in how heat is transferred throughout a building and can provide energy savings of 34% compared to current HVAC solutions. Originally developed in Asia, the technology is now gaining market share in the United States. Though Asian-based companies dominate VRF manufacturing, the landscape is shifting through joint ventures, such as Johnson Controls’ yet-to-be-finalized tie up with Hitachi, and through the establishment of manufacturing operations in the United States, such as Daikin’s American manufacturing line in Houston.
Further Changes Ahead
Future gains in efficiency can still be gained through better control and wider adoption of currently available equipment. However, some are looking even deeper at reducing the energy consumption of HVAC systems. Currently, HVAC equipment ejects heat from a building into its surroundings. Dr. Aaswath Raman, a research associate at Stanford University, is developing technology to dump unwanted heat into outer space. Dr. Raman has engineered a material capable of manipulating the energy levels of the light it reflects so that sunlight can be reflected and transformed to a wavelength that sends it out of Earth’s atmosphere. In effect, it can transfer the heat generated in a building by the sun to the much larger and much cooler heat sink of outer space. Initial tests have demonstrated that Raman’s material can maintain a 4.9°C temperature difference between a box coated in the material and the outdoors. If deployed in buildings, the impact on HVAC requirements would trigger a new wave of innovation in HVAC equipment.
For a more detailed look at how the HVAC market is changing, please join Navigant Research’s free webinar, Innovations in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 2 p.m. EST. Click here to register.
Tags: & Air Conditioning, Building Systems, Energy Efficiency, Heating, Smart Buildings Program, Ventilation
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