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‘We would like to see a lot more of integrated building design’

David Underwood, ASHRAE President*, and B Surendar, Editorial Director & Associate Publisher, CPI Industry, met during ACREX 2016 in Mumbai, India, for a discussion on the HVACR industry. Their conversation covered a wide arc encompassing subjects like integrated building design, efficacy of District Cooling, tightening cold chain to reduce food wastage, sub-metering and nuclear energy. We bring you the excerpts.

| | Apr 28, 2016 | 5:45 pm
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David Underwood, ASHRAE President

David Underwood, ASHRAE President

The architecture, civil and HVAC disciplines have traditionally worked in a disconnected way in the Middle East, which has resulted in IEQ- and energy efficiency-related issues cropping up. The issues could easily be addressed if all the stakeholders were to come together to have a more interconnected, collaborative approach. Your presidential theme is ‘making connections’. How can you, as president, help drive that message home for a global audience?

My theme this year is ‘making connections’. And that answers a lot of questions that you are asking. However, I am one individual, and I can do only what I can do. We have a technical committee in ASHRAE that looks at integrated building design, and what you are referring to is a need to do a better job at integrating building design, where all the disciplines get together, look at what each of them is doing, and all I can say is that we would like to see is a lot more of that being done. We hope people from the Middle East can join into that group so that they can get a better understanding and can convey that message to their members.

Speaking from a broader perspective – I am talking about making connections between the HVAC industry and other industries. Let’s take North America as an example. Just like any other region, there is need for greater collaboration to move things forward. To cite an instance, District Cooling has been spoken of as a wonderful cooling approach, and yet it reportedly has a penetration rate of less than two per cent. And reportedly, there is scope for 40% energy savings through District Cooling. What is being done in the United States, for instance, wherein the construction industry, the utilities and other entities come together to collaborate on projects?

That approach generally requires government intervention, because to try and get a whole bunch of people together that want to have a District Cooling system is really a challenge. Where we find it really successful are on university campuses, where you have a group of buildings, and also in hospital campuses. I would like to give you an example. This isn’t in the United States; it is Toronto. We built in Toronto many years ago, which required more water for the city. We have Lake Ontario along Toronto, and the bottom of Lake Ontario never gets warmer than about three degrees C. They brought that water in to supply potable water to the city, they set up some heat exchangers and the water went through there, and they have 10 kilometres of pipe underneath the city for District Cooling; and it has taken 10 MW off the power grid. And that to me is a great example of a District Cooling system that is effective and working well.

We had the privilege of carrying a case study on the project. You are referring to the deep lake water project.

Yes, it’s called the deep lake water cooling project.

It is, no doubt, a phenomenal project. You are talking of the use of geothermal energy there. But in many places, you don’t have geothermal energy available. What is being done to encourage the setting up of District Cooling schemes, considering that studies reveal that 70% of the population in the United States can benefit from District Energy? What are the ways and means of ensuring funding for the projects?

District Heating, District Cooling and electrical distribution and electrical production for local areas is, to my mind, the way to go in the future

You might want to look at that in the total perspective of what is happening with energy. The smart grid system you need to look at carefully. We look at individual buildings, but we really need to be looking at districts. So District Heating, District Cooling and electrical distribution and electrical production for local areas is, to my mind, the way to go in the future, so that it actually becomes efficient, because you are working with a local context rather than with a much broader picture, which you cannot really predict (as to) what is going to happen in that area. Whether this will happen or not is something that we all have to try and work towards. It is again… you need government regulation to get involved with it. And there is a lot of resistance to government regulation in a lot of communities, so that’s part of the problem. We have to educate people.

How successful has ASHRAE been in educating people?

That is one of the strengths of ASHRAE. We provide a lot of education tools, not necessarily to the general public but to the engineering community, and we hope that the engineering community will be able to do that education to the broader community.

Often, one of the major problems we see is measuring energy performance of buildings, and I am talking of a regime of sub-metering. And while we have sub-metering for several utilities, the data are collected individually. We don’t seem to have an integrated approach. We could easily have a single entity responsible for measuring energy performance, water, chilled water, etc., that can avoid the duplication of work. All the data are collected and the reports generated; and we are able to know the energy performance of the building across multiple sectors, be it commercial, residential or industrial even. We don’t seem to have that. It’s a simple thing. I mean, sub-metering has been around for a while, and yet we don’t see it being deployed widely enough. Is ASHRAE doing anything to encourage such a regime?

Well, I don’t know if ASHRAE is doing anything directly to champion that, but there are areas of North America, in particular, that use systems that are now integrated, that are looking at the whole of the system in terms of use. And when your energy requirements are high, you are charged more money to try and make people reduce their energy consumption. And again, I refer back to my locale, the province of Ontario. We had integrated metering in the province now for several years. We used to peak at around 28,000 MW in the summer time. Now we peak at 23,000, so there has been 5,000 MW savings just by doing that. So it is there, and it has been used, but it is not extensively being used as it could be. And metering is something… I also know of several chains in the US that monitor buildings and they do centralise data collection to know what the buildings are doing.

COP 21 concluded in Paris amidst a lot of optimism, and I think it is a phenomenal development, where entire countries came together and said they were making a commitment. What do you see is the way forward now, in terms of implementing and making sure that those targets are achieved without any delay? I ask this, because we have often seen political backtracking. What can we do as an engineering community to persuade governments to continue the process to sustain what they agreed on in Paris?

We are looking at those kinds of issues to see if we can actually bring technology forward that will help to make low-cost housing more affordable and to be able to air condition it, so that people will be comfortable

That I think is a very interesting subject. COP 21 is the way forward. Governments have all committed to that at the highest level. It is the implementation that is a problem. You bring it back to your legislators at the various locales, and they have to do something. One of the biggest ways of reducing energy consumption or controlling it is to build buildings that are actually energy efficient. And the standards that ASHRAE develops – 90.1, 189.1 – these are the kinds of standards of design that can be utilised to build buildings that are energy efficient in the first place. When you take that design, you got to make sure that the building is built according to the way it has been designed. And that is something I have done a lot during my life – that is, the commissioning of buildings, where you actually put together the owner, the designer, the constructor and the operator, because in the end it is how the buildings are operated whether they will actually reduce energy consumption or not.

We don’t see much of a commissioning or re-commissioning approach in the GCC region, unfortunately, and a large number of buildings, and the systems in them, as a result don’t match design intent when it comes the time to operate them. What can be done to address this? I have a simple answer. My own definition of commissioning is this: Designer’s knowledge and transferring it to the operator’s hands. I think we have to do a better job at educating people around the world why it is very important to commission buildings. And you are not just looking at individual pieces of equipment, you are looking at the system, how they perform and the verification of the system. Many parts of the world are facing the prospect of a protracted economic slowdown. In the GCC region, depressed oil prices have led to a slowdown in construction activity. This has given way to talk of affordable housing project offering a lifeline to the HVAC industry. Has ASHRAE looked into lowcost housing and how air conditioning systems can fit into the regime without compromising on technical quality?

We had an ad hoc committee that was looking at the activities of ASHRAE within the residential community. We have not been terribly active in that part of the industry for a long time. We now have a standing committee, which is looking specifically at residential. We have a lot of work going on in the developing economies, and combining those two things we are looking at those kinds of issues to see if we can actually bring technology forward that will help to make low-cost housing more affordable and to be able to air condition it, so that people will be comfortable.

What is the name of the committee?

The Residential Building Committee. The RBC.

And is that going to be a worldwide initiative?

That is the standing committee of ASHRAE, and we have members from around the world that are sitting on that committee to look at issues.

In that case, would those members take the messages back to their associate in their respective countries and, thus, percolate it to a wider community?

That is the intention.

air conditioner_SSWhen it comes to refrigeration, there is an interesting book that was released in 2015, called Food Foolish. It is co-authored by John Mandyck, the Chief Sustainability Officer of UTC. And he spoke about how food loss and food wastage, if they were to be a country, would be the third largest emitter of GHGs after China and the United States. And that was quite an interesting perspective, the way it was put. And we still see huge gaps. Yes, we see regulations in place, but when it comes to enforcement, there are still challenges, and those are creating weak links in the cold chain. What leadership position is ASHRAE taking to address this? While the standards give a framework the world over, what can ASHRAE do to champion the cause, to strengthen the cold chain?

ASHRAE is really with UNEP in that aspect. But we are a technical society. And all we can really do is to provide the technical information and for somebody to pick it up, that has to be somebody who is a regulator. We are not a regulator. We are a voluntary organisation. We develop the standards and the best practices, so that you can actually build things and not have a fluctuation in the food chain. We have no power to force them to do so. That’s a government function.

Your thoughts on Renewable Energy, on how the world can use more of solar or natural gas. What needs to be done to drive us in that direction to bring the carbon footprint down? Do you see any stumbling blocks, as such when it comes to the use of Renewable Energy? Are you happy with the pace of development the world over?

That’s also a very complex question. Renewable Energy, like wind power and solar power, they are wonderful. First of all, the source is free, and they are available, but there are some problems with it, in terms of capacity. I am talking about there being enough capacity to cover the base load; and particularly when you look at solar, when you look at wind, they are not totally reliable. The sun does not shine through the day, and wind sometimes goes up and goes down. They are great when you looking at demand load, but they are not so good from a base-load perspective. This is my personal opinion, and this is not ASHRAE’s opinion, I really believe we have to look seriously at nuclear energy to cover the base load and then you can take those other Renewable Energy sources to cover the demand load.

Nuclear despite Fukushima?

Yes, despite Fukushima. You can build it better than what they built it in Japan. Engineers can look at these things, and there are ways to actually make them safer. There were things that were done on that plant that were not good engineering, and it’s a question of what mistakes were made to improve them. And would you like me to tell you a little story? Do you see this ring on my finger? It represents an accident that happened in Quebec City in 1904, when a bridge fell and 84 people were killed. Engineers were devastated by it, because they were engineering mistakes and oversights and not good commissioning practices. There was a University of Toronto professor, who suggested we needed something to remind engineers about their responsibility to society. So he designed this ring, and it was made from that steel that failed. And there is also a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, called The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Every engineer in Canada, when they graduate from school, get one of these rings to remind them of the responsibility to the society. And I refer that thing back to Fukushima.


*At the time of going to press, David Underwood was ASHRAE President.


(The writer is the Editor of Climate Control Middle East and the Editorial Director & Associate Publisher of CPI Industry.)


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