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Signposts along the road to sustainability

There are plenty of opportunities to encourage businesses to take action and reduce their energy consumption and therefore increase their sustainability by investing in energy efficient HVAC&R solutions, according to Des Franklin
Sustainability has now become not only the most ethically desirable but also the most financially intelligent business practice and this message must be delivered effectively. I think the HVAC&R sector should be striving to provide expert advice, guidance and tailored solutions to ensure that end-users are able to benefit from long-term energy management strategies.

With the recent unstable economic times in mind, I find it astonishing that many businesses are spending far more on energy than necessary due to being unaware of the benefits, or simply not taking action.

By failing to capitalise on the revolutionary technologies and expert advice that are readily available, businesses are losing out all round. Of course, it may be hard in terms of cash flow for some businesses to invest upfront, but for those who can, it is a false economy not to do so.

Facing intense pressure

Businesses are facing intense pressure to demonstrate a commitment to lower carbon emissions and increase sustainability. Reviewing their heating, cooling and ventilation requirements is an integral part of this and one that HVAC&R professionals should be taking advantage of. If a more holistic approach is taken when advising on building facilities, I believe that there is huge potential for energy bills to be lowered.

Large buildings are a great example of where this mentality can be implemented. Particularly in buildings that are older, facilities have often been acquired and installed in a piecemeal fashion. This is largely due to the fact that over time, new systems are installed bit-by-bit, as needs occur, without taking pre-existing facilities into consideration. This is not only an expensive approach but also a very ineffective one resulting in wasted energy and money.

For example, in cases where simultaneous heating and cooling is required, such as in a hotel, a number of different pieces of kit could be running at the same time, all competing against each other to heat water in one room and chill another. Separate systems for this are not necessary as it inevitably ends up escalating fuel bills. Offering customers information and advice about re-using energy, whether in the form of waste water or heat, is crucial to helping businesses achieve more sustainable processes.

Our industry can add real value here. By viewing facilities from a 'big picture' perspective, owners can centralise and consolidate systems in order to operate collaboratively for maximum efficiency and minimum spend. I believe that it is the responsibility of each engineer to ensure that the minimum amount of energy is used for each job and end-users could be encouraged more to understand and appreciate how this can be achieved.

If this approach is embedded at all levels of the industry, over time I believe that we will witness a major reduction in wasted energy.

A challenge for engineers in the past has been that, traditionally, products which support carbon reduction and lower energy use were compromised in performance capabilities - this is certainly no longer the case. Modern technology has responded to environmental conscientiousness and challenging economic climate by developing solutions that offer unparalleled efficiency and performance, simultaneously.

These present opportunities for genuine win-win scenarios, which cannot afford to be overlooked or ignored.

Heat pumps are a prime example of such technological progression. With a broadly accepted consensus that gas, electric and oil boilers are no longer the best option for space and water heating, heat pumps have emerged as the perfect solution to achieve increased sustainability with heating and cooling.

Cutting edge technology

MHI's latest product, the Q-ton is a perfect example of cutting-edge heat pump technology which has been meticulously developed to cater to the modern needs and requirements of buildings. The Q-ton is a rare breed: an air to water heat pump, purely designed to heat water, which offers an efficiency of 430 per cent, using only CO2 as a refrigerant. Running costs can be cut by up to 58 per cent (compared to a gas boiler), and while previous incarnations of air-to-water heat pumps have required additional electricity to reach the required water temperatures for legionella regulations, the Q-ton enables the heating of water to the 'safe temperature zone' without this.

The unique two-stage compressor technology enables the Q-ton to reach Co-efficient of Performance (COP) levels that are significantly higher than pre-existing heat pumps.

Obstacles to sustainability

Another obstacle in maximising sustainability is that of initial capital costs. For some, the initial outlay required to upgrade equipment can act as a deterrent and prevent opportunities being capitalised upon.

While this is understandable, especially given the recent recession, I feel strongly that upgrading to energy-efficient equipment should be viewed as an investment, with the long-term benefits in mind. We need to help end-users understand the impact that the lower running costs will have on their bottom-line. Devoting funds to secure multi-faceted long-term benefits makes far more business sense than allowing money and energy to be wasted by relying on outdated and inefficient technology. It's also important to take into account the maintenance costs of newer systems.

While some leading-edge technology may require a fairly costly initial outlay, once installed, levels of reliability are far higher and maintenance costs are not as high as some may assume. In fact, it is now no more expensive to maintain a heat pump than it is a gas boiler.

A lack of knowledge about energy costs is also contributing to the lack of action by some to future-proof their buildings by investing in energy efficient technology. Many are unaware of how much energy they are using, how much they are spending and which facilities are the biggest contributors, making it far less likely that they will be inclined to review their current systems. I feel that it is the responsibility of HVAC&R professionals to educate and inform end-users on the benefits of investing in energy efficient solutions, highlighting the significant cost savings that are essentially there for the taking.

To summarise, I feel that there are plenty of opportunities to encourage businesses to take action and reduce their energy consumption by investing in energy efficient HVAC&R solutions. If, as an industry, we can become a 'go-to' support hub for information and solutions, encouraging businesses to adopt a sustainable mentality, then we are preparing well for a low-carbon future.

The author is European sales manager at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Europe Ltd (MHIE)
3 January 2013

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