ASHRAE Looks at Energy Efficiency in a World Without Price Tags

ideasAll of us – including energy managers – live in a world in which decisions are based on multiple variables. Pluses and minuses are compared and contrasted and a final determination is made.

ASHRAE has just released news of what seems to be a very valuable exercise that looked at energy efficiency initiatives a bit differently. Of course, major variables – perhaps the major variables – to a project are how much it costs to launch and what the likely ongoing costs will be. Many otherwise beneficial projects never get off the ground because of these factors.

But what can be learned if cost data is off the table? The ASHRAE 1651-Research Project — “Development of Maximum Technically Achievable Energy Targets for Commercial Buildings: Ultra-Low Energy Use Building Set” — aimed to calculate the amount of energy savings that would result from taking 30 steps without any consideration of cost. “No costs were considered at all in the project,” Jason Glazer, the Principal Engineer for GARD Analytics — the organization that ran the project — told Energy Manager Today.

Of course, cost never really is off the table. But valuable information on what is possible can be garnered by imagining that it is. “The ASHRAE technical committee that created the project requested this approach,” Glazer said. “I believe it was primarily because the project was to set goals based on what is technically possible so that we can understand an extreme case of how much more efficient buildings can be. Factoring in first costs limits that much further.”

The bottom line is that implementing the 30 steps – selected out of 400 – would result in increasing energy efficiency by 47.8 percent compared to ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013, which was used as the baseline.

The engineers took a systematic approach. The ASHRAE press release said that the 30 selected approaches were tested across 16 prototype buildings that are consistent with standard 90.1-2013. The steps were individually modeled across 17 climate zones. The organization said that many options often were tested. Steps that reduced energy consumption after 272 combinations of building and climate combinations remained in the model, according to the press release.

The assessments were made with several criteria in mind. Engineers sought to reduce internal loads and reducing building envelope loads. Three HVAC-related criteria also were assessed: reducing distribution system losses; decreasing equipment energy consumption and energy impact of major reconfigurations.

The entire list of steps is here. Some are low- or no-cost: Choosing higher efficiency office equipment is a matter of policy, for instance, is more a matter of policy than expenditures. Most – such as use of LEDs and high efficiency boilers – carry a high price tag.

The list seems exhaustive. Ten of the ideas listed are shifting from general to task illumination; use of optimal daylighting control; optimizing roof insulation level; optimizing vertical fenestration; use of external light shelves; use of daylighting control by fixture; deployment of high performance fans; reduction of static air pressure with high performance ducts; switching to demand controlled ventilation/CO2 controls and installation of multiple-zone variable air volume (VAV) system ventilation optimization.

Of course, nothing can happen without deep considering being given to capex and opex. The concept behind the project, however, was to spur the imaginations usually shackled by those considerations to think more freely. It follows that the work by the researchers will influence real world projects. “I hope that it will challenge building design teams to create buildings that are very efficient and I also hope that it will show that building energy efficiency codes and standards still can be made significantly more efficient benefiting society in general,” Glazer wrote.

Glazer made an important point in the press release announcing the project. The most obvious beneficiaries of the findings are energy managers contemplating projects. Planners more remove from individual projects – those who design guides, standards and codes – also will gain valuable knowledge and insight by seeing the value of various steps in isolation.

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