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‘I think we’re on the cusp of a golden age – a new renaissance’

ASHRAE President-Elect*, Timothy Wentz, in conversation with Fatima de la Cerna of Climate Control Middle East, reveals his plans for the Society, and shares his thoughts on a wide range of topics, including the Internet of Things, the Paris Agreement, the future of refrigerants and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its release.

| | May 24, 2016 | 12:11 pm
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Timothy Wentz. Image credit: ASHRAE website*

Timothy Wentz. Image credit: ASHRAE website*

What can we expect from ASHRAE under your guidance?

There are three broad directives* that I’d like to see ASHRAE employ to take us to the next level. One’s on technology, which is changing rapidly, and I see the fabric of our industry changing with it. ASHRAE needs to be at the cutting edge of this transformation, empowering its members to adapt.

The second broad directive is on education. I think there’s a thirst worldwide for application-based education, and that’s one of ASHRAE’s strengths, because we have around 55,000 practising professionals – men and women around the world who know what works, how it works and why it works – and we’re going to empower them to deliver that knowledge.

And, in connection to that, the third directive is empowering chapters, like the Falcon Chapter. The Falcon Chapter is a great chapter, but we’re going to talk about what we can do to make it even better and how we can take its energy and knowledge and apply it to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and to the community, so the community can see what ASHRAE can do.

Considering that not all countries have access to the latest innovations in technology, how big a role does – and will – technology play in the global drive to achieve sustainable development?

I think technology is going to proliferate and the world will be able to benefit from it. I don’t think it’ll make any difference if you’re in Lincoln, Nebraska – where I’m from – or Dubai, UAE. Technology is going to be available to you, and it’s going to change the way you design and construct buildings. And it’s going to change how you operate and maintain buildings. So I think that the difference people see between developed and developing countries is going to go away, and we’re all going to have a single platform of technology, from which we’ll operate.

The past couple of years have seen IoT become a buzzwrd in the industry. Do you see it growing bigger?

We are making a conscious effort to ensure that there is representation from outside North America in our standards, standing and grassroots committees

Yes, absolutely. The Internet of Things is one of those emerging trends that are going to change our buildings for the better. With IoT, everything will be able communicate with everything else, allowing us to optimise building performance, which is something we haven’t been able to do to this point. Our designs and construction methods, to a large extent, have been prescriptive instead of performance-based, and IoT is going to allow us to design and construct, based on how we want the building to perform – and that’ll be the new world.

There is, however, a downside to it. As IoT expands and more systems talk to each other, cyber security will become a major issue. That’s something we’re going to spend a lot of time on, trying to ensure that smart buildings, smart grids and IoT don’t create security problems for our clients and members.

But really, I think we’re on the cusp of a golden age – a new renaissance. This technology is going to drive us towards a more integrated design, and once we get into a more integrated design, we’ll be able to design around performance rather than going by the traditional prescriptive fashion.

How about Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)? Where is ASHRAE currently on IEQ, and where is it going? 

ASHRAE is deeply involved in three main areas: Energy efficiency in buildings, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and human comfort. All three are related. Here in Dubai, in the peak of summer, a building will use 70% of its energy for air conditioning – and that’s a huge number. What happens is, when energy consumption is so high, IAQ tends to be forgotten or is regarded as less important, which it isn’t. We think that through IoT, big data and other technological advances, we will be able to optimise energy consumption, IAQ and human comfort, all at the same time. That’s going to take a level of sophistication we haven’t had yet, and quite frankly, it’s going to take hardware and software we haven’t had yet. But we’re right on the cusp of it. And so we’re going to be able to address some of those issues that we struggle with, not just in Dubai but worldwide.

With new technologies in the market, standards have also become more stringent, and are expected to grow even more rigorous as a result of COP 21 or the Paris Agreement. How do you see the agreement affecting the industry? What long-term effect will it have?

COP 21 is going to change the way we approach standards, something that you can already observe in ASHRAE. We are putting in compliance paths for performance-based design, and what you’ll see is us moving towards more performance-based application and less reliance on prescriptive methods. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way that we, as a world community, are going to be able to comply with the COP 21 requirements, which are absolutely necessary.

The IMF has called for an end to energy subsidies worldwide, having estimated incentives to be about US D 1.9 trillion

You know, they say that buildings are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to saving energy and reducing emissions. If that is indeed the case, then that will be our position; and if that position is true, the question then becomes: What do you do with a planet’s worth of buildings, from many different cultures and built with different construction methods and materials? How do you get everybody to, first of all, buy in and be on the same path that will create the kind of carbon and energy savings necessary to reach that aggressive goal of below two degrees C? That’s not going to be easy. You take the culture here in Dubai, for example, and compare it to the culture in Nebraska, where we use a lot of wood in construction. There’s not much wood here and we have different climates, and so our buildings don’t behave the same way. So it seems to me that we have to come together on a global initiative like COP 21, but we have to understand that the answer is going to be local. We have to look into local solutions that have the same purpose and the same overall goal.

The INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) are supposed to serve that purpose, right? They’re meant to provide guidance by setting targets. Implementation-wise, though, how can those targets be achieved? And are they even feasible?

In that aspect again, technology will be one of the drivers. Right now, you and I are sitting here, thinking that okay, we know what kind of refrigerants exist today. We know that we have to go for zero-ODP and low-GWP refrigerants, but that’s assuming a vapour compression cycle. Maybe the answer is to get rid of the vapour compression cycle and go for a completely different way of creating chilled water and eliminate the refrigerant altogether. I mean, we need to look at this through new eyes; but the goal is clear. We have to have that kind of aggressive goal, or there won’t be anything pushing us to create new refrigerants or get rid of refrigerants, whatever the answer’s going to be.

What’s your take on natural refrigerants?

I think natural refrigerants will have a role, at least in the near future. The problem with natural refrigerants is that some are flammable and some are toxic. ASHRAE is working hard on our two main refrigerant standards – Standards 15 and 34. ASHRAE is in the process of revising both to look at and incorporate what we call the 2L refrigerants, which are flammable. They are excellent refrigerants with great potential, except that they are mildly flammable. We want to be able to use those refrigerants, but we want to make sure that they are used properly and don’t endanger the health and safety of building occupants and of the maintenance staff.

What do you think is keeping the industry from reaching a consensus on refrigerants?

The problem isn’t just a lack of consensus. There’s also the question of availability. What refrigerants are available in the local area? It’s also an efficiency issue. Some are more efficient than others. On this, we get back to the topic of culture and what I’ve observed in the Middle East. Many Middle Eastern countries heavily subsidise energy cost, which disincentivises people from saving energy. Not only that, if you do a lifecycle cost analysis on a 2L refrigerant in an area where energy costs are highly subsidised, you’re unlikely to get the answer you should be getting.

The UAE has actually started introducing subsidy reforms.

Yes, I understand that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are working towards resolving those high subsidies. But, you know, all countries use subsidies to some extent. The United States, which prides itself on being a market-driven society, actually subsidises energy considerably, in different ways. I’m talking about natural gas, gasoline and electricity; and it has the same impact on the United States as it does on the UAE. It disincentivises people from making the decisions they should be making. The IMF, in fact, has called for an end to energy subsidies worldwide, having estimated incentives to be about USD 1.9 trillion. That’s a lot.

Another thing we keep hearing about is carbon taxes. Talking about the United States, for the first time in my memory I heard a Republican candidate and a Democratic candidate for president, both recommend a carbon tax. Extrapolating that one point, I think the United States is starting to seriously look at carbon tax as one method of putting the incentives in the right place. So we’ll see what the future holds for that.

Speaking of politicians and the environment, it’s been 10 years since Al Gore released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Could you comment on the relevance of his message to present times?

I think Al Gore’s message that our climate is changing is correct. I don’t think there’s much scientific evidence against that. But I think that a lot of what he said was discounted owing to him being a politician and not a scientist.

Maybe the answer is to get rid of the vapour compression cycle and go for a completely different way of creating chilled water and eliminate the refrigerant altogether

My own position on it is that it’s clear that the climate is changing. That is why COP 21 is so important. Now, the debate as to why it’s changing – to me, it’s not a debate at all. The question should be: Do we have a moral duty to be a good steward to our planet? If the answer is yes, then we should be doing things to protect the environment, regardless if the climate is changing because of human action or because of something else. There are those that claim that it’s not human action; that it’s just a normal cycle. But that doesn’t make a difference. That’s the wrong question. The right question is, like I said, do we have a moral duty to be good stewards? For me, the answer is yes. And because the answer is yes, then we need to do whatever is necessary to make things like COP 21 real. COP 21 is challenging, and there’s some scientific difference of opinion on how we can achieve a limit of two degrees C in temperature increase. It is a complex issue. It’s not going to be easy work, but it’s important work, and one that we need to start right away.

Going back to ASHRAE, I’m sure you’re aware that it has its share of critics who believe that its standards are not suited to the conditions of the Gulf.

Yes, I’ve heard that criticism before. ASHRAE is trying to become more global and, just to give you an example, ASHRAE only has four vice presidents for the whole planet, and one of them lives in Kuwait. Moreover, my executive committee will be 40% from outside North America. That’s a fairly significant movement.

We are also making a conscious effort to ensure that there is representation from outside North America in our standards, standing and grassroots committees. In fact, I recently announced that the first Board of Directors meeting outside of North America will be held this fall in Bangkok, Thailand. The entire Board will be going, and it will be done in conjunction with the Region-at-Large Chapter regional conference. I think there’s very clear evidence that ASHRAE is committed to becoming more global and making our product more global.

Anything else we could look forward to from the Society?

We’re just having a banner year; we really are. Our research promotion campaign hit an all-time high last year, and we will be committing close to USD 5 million in new research money this year for our members to research exactly the issues that you’ve mentioned.

Our show – our expo – has been setting records, and we don’t want to take that for granted. We’ll be in Las Vegas next winter, and that show has already broken the record we just broke last year. And when you look at the vendors and equipment suppliers, we have a higher percentage coming from outside North America.

In fact, the fastest growing portion of ASHRAE’s membership is outside North America. Over 20% of our members are now from outside the region. It’s an exciting momentum for the Society. As I mentioned earlier, we’re experiencing a kind of renaissance in our industry.


*See related story at http://climatecontrolme.com/2016/03/ashrae-president-elect-reveals-threedirectives-for-upcoming-term/
* At the time of going to press, Timothy Wentz was ASHRAE President-Elect


(The writer is the Assistant Editor of Climate Control Middle East.)


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