Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Electricity Use Slashed with Efficiency Controls for Heating, Cooling


Field test of advanced controls in commercial buildings reveals more savings than expected

Commercial buildings could cut their heating and cooling electricity use by an average of 57 percent with advanced energy-efficiency controls, according to a year-long trial of the controls at malls, grocery stores and other buildings across the country. The study demonstrated higher energy savings than what was predicted in earlier computer simulations by the same researchers.

“We’ve long known that heating and cooling are among the biggest energy consumers in buildings, largely because most buildings don’t use sophisticated controls,” said the study’s lead researcher, engineer Srinivas Katipamula of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “But our tests of controls installed at real, working commercial buildings clearly demonstrate how much more energy efficient air-conditioning systems can be.”

This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and the Bonneville Power Administration.

Sitting on the roofs of many commercial buildings are shiny metal boxes containing heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning (also known as HVAC) units. These are pre-made in a factory and have all their components inside a box, leading the industry to call them “packaged” HVAC units. Another kind of commercial HVAC, called air handling units, have long used sophisticated controls to ensure they work as efficiently as possible. But packaged units are often allowed to run for hours on end, even if they aren’t needed, and receive little maintenance.

Packaged HVAC units consume the same amount of electricity each year as 8 million U.S. residents, or about 2,600 trillion British thermal units of energy. All those ignored and often-inefficient HVAC systems add up, creating higher power bills and contributing to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Putting an idea to the test
Katipamula and his PNNL colleagues have spent their careers thinking up ways to reduce energy use in buildings. In 2011, they set out to adapt the controls already found in air handling HVAC units for use in packaged rooftop HVAC units. The goal was to enable packaged units to automatically adjust their operations based on conditions inside and outside a building. Using sensors and variable-speed motors, the controls decide when and how fast ventilation fans should run, and if the units can use naturally cold air from the outside instead of mechanically cooling indoor air.

While the PNNL team was evaluating how these controls could work, they learned a few companies were simultaneously and independently in the process of developing such advanced controls. During the summer of 2012, the team installed one of the commercially available control kits on 66 rooftop HVAC units at eight volunteer commercial buildings in Washington state, Ohio, California and Pennsylvania. The buildings included shopping malls, grocery stores, big-box stores and a medical clinic. The installed devices, manufactured by Transformative Wave of Kent, Wash., were chosen because they most closely resembled the advanced controls PNNL had envisioned.

Real energy savings
Katipamula and his colleagues found that, compared to standard operations, the HVAC units using advanced controls cut their energy use by an average of 57 percent. The actual energy savings ranged from 20 to 90 percent. Larger buildings such as malls, which need bigger HVAC units, saved more energy than smaller buildings. And buildings that ran ventilation fans more, such as stores open long hours, tended to save more energy.

Translating the energy savings into dollars saved depended on local power costs. Nationwide, energy costs an average of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, though areas with abundant and inexpensive power supplies often pay less and large cities with greater energy needs generally pay more. When using the national average, researchers found all the field-tested HVAC units would have saved an average of $1,489 annually per unit. The team calculated it would take a building owner three years to recoup the cost of buying and installing advanced controls with that average cost savings. Commercial buildings often have multiple rooftop HVAC units, so actual savings per building would depend on the number of units used.

But the exact payback period depends on several factors. To help building owners weigh the costs, the research team developed a table that lays out which specific combinations of an HVAC unit’s size, the number of hours its fan runs daily and the local energy rate would result in a three-year or less payback period. The team concluded installing advanced controls in smaller units with a capacity of 15 tons or less could achieve a three-year payback in areas where energy costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour or more, or where sufficient utility incentives were available.

“I’m proud to see the advanced controls my colleagues and I evaluated not only work in the real world, but produce significant energy savings,” Katipamula said. “We hope commercial building owners will be inspired by these tangible savings and install advanced controls in their rooftop HVAC units.”

Building owners interested in upgrading or replacing their HVAC systems can learn more from the Advanced Rooftop Campaign, which was formed by DOE’s Better Building Alliance, ASHRAE (also known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

S. Katipamula, W. Wang and M. Vowles, “Improving Operating Efficiency of Packaged Air Conditioners & Heat Pumps,” ASHRAE Journal, March 2014,

W. Wang, S. Katipamula, H. Ngo, R. Underhill, D. Taasevigen and R. Lutes, “Advanced Rooftop Control (ARC) Retrofit: Field-Test Results,” report for DOE, July 2013,

# # #

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Franny White | newswise

Further reports about: Cooling Efficiency Energy HVAC PNNL Pacific controls heating ventilation

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Greater efficiency and potentially reduced costs with new MRI applications

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Modular syngo.plaza as a comprehensive solution – even for enterprise radiology

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>