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Energy efficiency and refrigerant advances key to net zero buildings

John Fick

Innovations in energy efficiency technology and natural refrigerants could be key to getting commercial office buildings to net zero energy, according to John Fick, managing director of EMSc Asia Pacific.

Mr Fick gave a presentation on net zero buildings at the recent Australian Refrigeration Association’s High Performance Energy Seminar. His talk outlined how combining voltage optimisation technology with energy storage, renewable power generation and energy-efficiency measures could dramatically lower the carbon footprint of buildings.

He told The Fifth Estate the reason HVAC was so central to the pursuit of lower energy footprints is that it currently comprises around 40 per cent of the energy load of a typical office building.

“The critical thing with any building, big or small, is the asset owner should have done what is necessary to make the load as efficient as possible,” Mr Fick said.

“No matter how it is powered, they should take all the steps to have the building as efficient as possible, and as economically efficient as possible.”

These steps include moving to the most appropriate technologies, and intelligent engineering around thermal levels.

This can see energy use reduce by around one third, he said.

Mr Fick said that once the load has become more efficient, voltage optimisation was a “simple step” with multiple benefits.

By conditioning the fluctuating voltage coming into a building from the grid to a steady 220 volts, and storing any excess voltage for use during peak demand times, energy bills can be reduced.

Conditioning the voltage also makes equipment run more efficiently, as if the supplied voltage fluctuates to higher than 220 volts, the equipment will consume the extra energy and give it off as heat. This adds to the load on HVAC, and also causes equipment to deteriorate more quickly, Mr Fick said.

“There are all these hidden costs.”

Add renewable energy into the equation, and in combination with VO technology and storage, net zero energy use is both technically feasible and economically viable, he said. VO technology can also be used by owners of multiple assets to create a distributed system, where renewable energy from one building or stored excess voltage can be shared with another asset.

His company is currently working with two large UK supermarket chains installing VO and storage technology across all their sites, he said.

The stores will then be able to function if there is a power brown out, and also can reduce their costs in terms of electrical systems and maintenance because a back-up emergency lighting and energy system will no longer be required.

This, combined with energy savings, means the payback for the technology is “well under” five years, Mr Fick said.

In Australia, the company is looking at the pharmaceutical and dairy industries, as both can suffer substantial financial losses if the power goes off.

Mr Fick said the combination of technologies can deliver a financial outcome that is cashflow positive from day one.

Refrigerant advances

Other speakers at the seminar included Ignacio Gavilan, global director of sustainability for The Consumer Goods Forum. Mr Gavilan told attendees that CGF members worldwide have committed to the use of natural refrigerants.

He also emphasised the need for training, education and collaboration among suppliers, users and government to enable the benefits of natural refrigerant based technology to be more rapidly adopted.

Selwyn Wallace from Engas and Pioneer International’s George Haydock presented a series of case studies showing how hydrocarbon refrigerants deliver energy savings in rooftop chillers and cold rooms.

Mr Haydock explained a case study of a rooftop chiller retrofit at Marketfair shopping centre in Campbelltown that is delivering capital cost savings of $1 million and 50 per cent energy savings using HC refrigerants.

Ian Tuena from The Natural Refrigerants Company highlighted investments in natural refrigerant based technology made by Woolworths, Coles and Aldi that are delivering energy savings of between 30 and 40 per cent.

ARA president Tim Edwards said the seminar’s objective was to demonstrate that natural refrigerant based technologies are highly energy efficient, proven and available in Australia.

“We wanted to demonstrate the high degree of innovation that is delivering energy efficiency in HVACR and the need for better energy management,” Mr Edwards said.

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