Given that HVAC systems typically account for 44% of commercial buildings’ energy consumption1, HVAC optimization should be a priority efficiency upgrade after lighting improvements and other low-hanging fruit. Full-scale HVAC optimization typically reduces energy usage and costs by 20 to 40%, improves system reliability by operating equipment more efficiently and at optimal temperatures, ensures consistently healthy air quality and building comfort, and reduces a building’s carbon footprint.
The term “optimization” is often applied loosely to various types of controls and upgrades in the HVAC world, but truly optimizing an HVAC plant means automatically controlling HVAC equipment as a holistic system, around the clock, to use the least amount of energy without sacrificing building performance. The chillers, boilers, air handling units, ductwork, diffusers, thermostats, sensors, and more must work together like a well-coordinated team to yield the full benefits. In addition, optimization software should continually capture and analyze system data to determine additional measures that will improve efficiency and provide performance metrics.
Optimization can be a significant project, but given the immediate savings and a typical payback period of less than four years, it makes good sense to undertake it.
Well-designed optimization projects can minimize resource use in chilled water plants, resulting in immediate savings and significant contributions to sustainability goals.
What usually holds people back from pursuing optimization is one or more of three common barriers: concerns about optimization in sensitive environments, uncertainty about results, and cost accounting. Facility executives can address each of these issues with careful project planning and mitigation strategies.
Facility operators are understandably hesitant about optimizing HVAC systems in environments where maintaining precise temperatures and other climate factors is essential. In a hospital, for example, spaces like operating rooms and emergency rooms can’t go offline at any time. Project leaders can mitigate risk by detailing testing methodology, backup plans in case of performance problems, and the best low-occupancy times for implementation and testing.
Air quality, freshness, and humidity also are important in sensitive environments, and ultimately an optimization project should give facility operators better control of these factors. As for temperature, optimization will improve consistency by preventing the heating system from fighting the cooling system, creating instability and energy waste.
The implementation process may also reveal issues that have been masked. The project may be an opportunity to upgrade air filtration, for example—that’s not affected by optimization, but it is important to establishing good air quality.
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