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Saving energy, moving away from R-22

Converting to inverter-based systems can help the UAE save 5,000-10,000 GW of energy a year, and a concerted shift to R-410a systems would help the country achieve its emissions reduction goals, says Visakh Tom Jose, Sales Manager, Air Solutions Division, LG Electronics Gulf, in this interview to Surendar Balakrishnan…

| | May 17, 2021 | 9:50 am
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While the emphasis over the years has been on retrofitting for energy efficiency and water use optimisation, are we seeing a trend of retrofitting for IAQ, instigated by COVID-19?

IAQ, over the years, did not attract major attention, even if acknowledged as necessary. A reason for this was the lukewarm demand among customers for good IAQ, which made it the least specified factor. As a result, you wouldn’t find any mechanism installed across the Middle East region and, in fact, most parts of the world. COVID-19 has triggered a deeper sense of awareness on IAQ. Today in construction – and this involves the full cycle of investors, suppliers and users – we are seeing a slow rise in demand and are observing an increase in enquiries for air purifiers and other IAQ-related solutions. We are seeing IAQ being accepted as a major factor now. I hope the demand does not fade away after COVID, because a pandemic like this can bring the whole world to a standstill.

What steps has LG taken in this direction – of providing solutions that cover energy efficiency and IAQ/IEQ?

For LG, retrofitting is about replacement of equipment for not only power and space saving but also control flexibility, IAQ and ROI. All our products are 100% inverter-based technology and ensure power savings. As far as energy saving factor is concerned, LG’s central control systems and wi-fi module allow for the indoor units to be connected to a cloud[1]based platform. This provides control and monitoring aspects to customers from anywhere in the world. LG considers IAQ as a moral responsibility to the world. Besides our standalone air purifying devices, including portable-type mini air purifiers, we are able to offer duct purification kits and cassette air purification kits. The duct purification kit includes MERV 13 filter and UV sterilisation, which removes 99.9% of germs. The cassette air purification kit has five stages of filtration, including deodorisation.

Visakh Tom Jose

While retrofitting, what are you doing to address the balance between energy efficiency and IAQ? Are you proposing solutions with more air changes to lower the risk of spread of disease in the built-environment? Are you an advocate of high[1]efficiency filters? If so, are you able to address pressure drop in an energy-efficient manner?

We believe that IAQ cannot be achieved only with high-efficiency filters; it can be realised only through a combination of factors, including providing the right ventilation and filters. FAHUs (fresh air[1]handling units), one of the major pieces of equipment, have to be made mandatory in all residential and commercial buildings. Providing sufficient ventilation is equally important, because it lowers the spread of diseases in the enclosed environment. As for the recommended air changes – it varies depending on the nature of the facility. For instance, you would need 6-7 air changes an hour in operation theatres, and fewer in residential buildings. An important point for consideration is the presence of radon gas, indoors. It is one of the major causes of lung cancer. It is an inert, colourless and odourless gas. In an open environment, it disperses; in a built-environment, it gets trapped indoors. Proper number of air changes will help eliminate radon. Likewise, particulate matter of certain size is a Grade I carcinogen, for which you would need high[1]efficiency filters to help stave off the threat. If I have an old LG unit, and if I add our air purifying kit, the pressure may drop. But, we can change the ESP level of our motors in the case of our indoor units series produced after 2018-2019. So, we can increase the ESP and still cater to the required air flow in the room. In the case of older units – say, those installed 10 years ago – we would have no choice but to replace the units to add the air purifying kits. We are talking of a deep retrofit, here.

What has been the response from owners of commercial properties in the times of COVID? Many have seen a drop in occupancies. In this regard, are they willing to spend on retrofitting at all, or are they taking recourse to business-as-usual?

I would like to classify customers into two types – those that are energy conscious and those that are not. I have an interesting customer, who has no relation to energy sustainability. He has a couple of labour camps. In 2019, he appointed an energy consultant to take care of energy consumption to drastically reduce energy. The consultant responded by going around the facility, auditing it and giving a report. Such customers are rare in the market. Most of them are only concerned about increasing profit in their primary business. In the pre[1]Covid scenario, most were not interested in retrofit. Those customers that are not energy conscious can be divided into two – those that don’t have knowledge on how a retrofit job can change their facility, and those with knowledge. My aim would be to motivate these customers. In pre-COVID times, the government took the initiative of bringing the ESCO model of shared services and guaranteed service contract. Even though the initiative was taken, large portions of the market were untapped, especially small-scale residential and commercial building owners. The situation in the wake of the onset of COVID saw a lot of uncertainty in the market and a drop in investment, which dissuaded many from pursuing the retrofit option. I was speaking to 3-4 small-scale ESCOs, who depend on private investors. All of them stopped pursuing the green concept. Again, we must keep in mind that 50% of the ESCOs are not more than five years old. COVID brought uncertainty, and many commercial properties remain unoccupied or minimally occupied, with work-from[1]home still the popular option. Owners of commercial properties were heavily impacted and had no other option but to drop the thought of retrofitting for a brief period of time. Now, post-COVID, many customers are thinking about decreasing their operational costs, which has triggered the retrofit market. In H2 2020, we could not see the graph going up. In 2021, there has been a dramatic rise in retrofit activity.

Given that the UAE has signed a new set of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in line with the Paris Agreement, as a commitment to lower its emissions, what role does LG see for itself in contributing to the building industry and, thereby, to the UAE and, for that matter, to other GCC region countries, in helping lower emissions?

The UAE intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23-24%, in relation to the business-as-usual scenario, by 2030. Demand side management is a key area of focus, when you consider the energy sector. LG has a moral responsibility to be energy conscious, and it has acted by making the shift to 100% inverter[1]based systems since 2018. This move increases energy efficiency and decreases power demand from the air conditioning sector, which consumes 60% of the electricity used in buildings. LG’s aim is to reduce at least 40% energy usage in existing building by undertaking retrofit assignments. An estimated 5,000-10,000 GW of energy can be saved per year in the UAE by converting to inverter-based systems. The baseline 30-40% existing non-inverter-based systems, if converted to inverter-based systems, can, indeed, help achieve 5,000-10,000 GW of energy savings a year. The inverter conversion ratio in the UAE is 20%. In the EU, it is more than 80%. LG has been contributing through its inverter systems to lower energy consumption in buildings, which in turn reduces dependence on fossil fuels, which, in turn, leads to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions. As for retrofits, 95% of the enquiries we are taking are related to systems already installed with R-22. If repair is the focus, each time they top up the gas, a minute amount of R-22 is released into the atmosphere. If 100,000 such units release minute amounts of R-22, the volume of greenhouse gases released is significant. That’s why we push for retrofits, because you can replace R-22 systems with R-410a systems. So, by pushing for retrofits, we reduce the import of R-22 gas and, that way, contribute to the country’s NDC initiative.

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