By: Yves Lemoine
Most people know about renewable energy generation, storage and electrified transportation, but their knowledge of cleaner, more efficient building options seems to be incomplete. There are many technologies, and numerous voices.
LARGE NORTH AMERICAN BUILDINGS – KEY TECHNOLOGIES 2000-2020
Since the turn of the century, key clean and efficient building technologies have been evolving:
- Modern hydronic systems and heat pumps
- Intelligent controls and advanced modelling
- Variable speed pumps and motors
- Other energy and water conservation equipment
The fourth category above includes LED lighting, heat recovery systems, drain water energy exchange, rainwater and grey water management. The return to hydronics has been accompanied by significant efficiency gains through variable speed pumping and also variable speed fan control. Heating and cooling technologies are also more precise in relation to load calculations, zoning, sequencing, and equipment sizing. This is all thanks to sophisticated, intelligent electronic control systems, and to the evolution of computer models in mechanical design.
KEY TECHNOLOGIES 2020-2030
In the last five years, integrated building design has brought building envelopes to centre stage. With the assumption of a tighter envelope and reduced heating and cooling loads, clean electrification can now add economic advantage to its ‘health and efficiency’ story. Indications are that the following heating and cooling technologies and trends will dominate the coming decade in the building sector:
- Passive house and net-zero building envelopes
- Air source, ground source, other heat pumps, hydronic & radiant systems
- Wi-Fi enabled monitoring, analytics & preventive maintenance
- Energy recovery ventilators & water conservation technology
- Solar & storage, microgrids
- Construction industry efficiencies
Construction industry efficiencies can include more factory prefabrication, greater use of design-build organizational structures, Building Information Modelling (BIM) extended now to construction schedules, modern clean energy funding models, and Energy Service Agreements. The first five items in the 2020s list will move the industry towards the goals of building electrification, dramatic emissions reductions, and judicious use of water. Geothermal, solar, microgrids, load management software (and cyber security) will enable resilience and islanded self-reliance for building complexes and critical-use campuses. These technology best practices are becoming more obvious, and governments are moving more aggressively to support the transformation, and accelerate building code and real estate transaction requirements. Clean energy rating disclosures are likely to be regulated, and will come to be seen as a marketing advantage for owners of sustainable buildings.
The transition to a fossil fuel-free building is largely a story of advanced engineering for greater precision. Combustible fuels are a way to ensure comfort, even in poorly built structures, but fossil fuel systems are literally designed for energy waste. In addition, forced air is inefficient. Physics tells us that, compared to fluid, air is an inefficient energy transfer medium. It is also more vulnerable to unhealthy indoor air quality. Engineering-focussed systems innovators like Armstrong Fluid Technology (Armstrong) have been at the forefront of designing for and working towards a new world. They have developed fluid-based, digitally advanced technology that saves energy and water, enables cleaner systems and improves their economic viability. Variable speed pumping and proper sequencing in large buildings were two early challenges for which the digital age could provide algorithms. Armstrong led the industry in these areas and is now following up this achievement by precisely analyzing the effect of operating volumes and speeds on energy efficiency and optimal clean energy temperature ranges. It has appropriately branded its intelligent pumps and associated digital controls as Design Envelope. The relentless focus on efficiency has also led to continuing hardware improvements and an end-to-end understanding of equipment lifetime performance, cost and maintenance.
As this can be a complex discipline in the context of millions of different buildings and campuses, it was inevitable that the next level would be Wi-Fi monitoring, data analytics, IOT, and preventive maintenance to avoid catastrophic failure. Armstrong now leads the industry with Wi-Fi equipped pumps and other technological capabilities, and with an analytics service structure to precisely monitor systems and compare performance metrics. Its expertise only grows as its installations and data resources expand worldwide. As the clean energy building moves into the mainstream, the practice will enjoy a seamless transition, supported by sophisticated technologies like Design Envelope from inspired engineering firms like Armstrong.
About the Author: Yves Lemoine, Director, Energy Upgrades, Armstrong Fluid Technology