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The Nordic revolution

The Scandinavian HVACR industry is widely seen as a front-runner in sustainable development, with a strategic focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy and better Indoor Environmental Quality

| | Nov 14, 2021 | 1:52 pm
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Scandinavia better known as the ‘Nordic’ countries is blessed with abundant natural beauty. This section of northern Europe has been the front-runner in implementing green regulations and, broadly speaking working incisively towards a greener future. According to the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA), there is constant ongoing research and development on energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and indoor environment. However, post the Paris Climate Agreement, in December 2015, there has been more focus on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The aim – future buildings must be real zero-energy buildings over their lifetime.

Ronak Monga

Government initiatives

Interestingly, sustainable initiatives have taken years to implement and regulate. However, Ronak Monga, Lead Business Development Manager – Commercial Building Services (CBS), GRUNDFOS Gulf Distribution FZE, explains that the Scandinavian government, along with the European Union, is driving sustainability in several ways, not least by having legislative measures in place for minimum efficiency and performance requirements. “Initiatives, such as green tax breaks, taxation on CO2 emissions and green funds for innovation are among the long list,” he says. “These encouraging initiatives are making businesses take steps to improve their carbon and water footprints, helping them become more sustainable.”

Monga speaks of a similar working structure in the district heating sector in Scandinavia, where there is a push to adopt 100% biofuels or renewable energy by 2040. Today, in Denmark, he says, 51% of all district heating is done by biofuels, while 38% is by fossil fuels; and the remainder is dependent on other sources, including renewables. He says Denmark is taking several steps to convert the 38% of district heating installations to completely renewable or a mix of renewable and biofuels, to become completely non-fossil fuel-dependent by 2040. Denmark and the rest of the Scandinavian countries, he says, serve as a very good example to the rest of the world, in proving that doing good for the environment is also good for the business.

People’s insight

Scandinavia is seeing the latest standards and sustainability initiatives being adopted and implemented, with development goals across all industries and residents. Monga points to how homeowners are more aware of energy, water, and heating or cooling costs within their homes. “In some parts of Denmark, a rating system on homes is deployed, where homes that are rated high on efficiency by use of latest boilers, pumps, lighting and building envelope get a higher rating,” he says. “These developers can demand a higher buying price on homes, and owners can demand higher rent.” Monga goes on to suggest that this is a win-win situation for all, coupled with a great initiative and motivation for the developer and residents alike. The benefit as they know is paying a higher upfront cost on the property, but a lower operational cost on living expenses, he says.

From a business point of view, Monga explains, facility managers are looking for more insights, enabling them to make more informed decisions on facility equipment. MEP equipment is getting more intelligent and connected. With this connectivity, facility managers gain the advantage of insights that are previously missed.

Sharing a similar point of view, Robert Johansson, Sales Manager, Systemair Sverige AB, says that homeowners and facility managers are looking for low energy consumption and sustainable products. “The SFP value has a strong impact on the ventilation systems, and demands are normally 1.5 or even lower,” he says, “with heat recovery being at least 80% or higher even during outdoor conditions at -30 degrees C.” This would mean taking into account the freezing situation, too. Johansson further adds that the technical rooms must be even bigger as air-handling units (AHU), as well as duct systems, are bigger, followed by customised ventilation systems with demand control feature.

Weighing in, Fredrik Häggström, Sales Director, New Business and NE Europe, Camfil, says that times are very different. “Today, we are witnessing an increasing demand for premium products with high efficiency,” he says. Residents today are well informed, and with the increasing population, the question that arises is the case of retrofitting and does it work in the ‘Nordic’ countries?

Retrofit report card

Interestingly, Johansson says that the concept of retrofitting faded away more than 20-25 years ago. Scandinavia, he says, started very early, just like the whole of Europe, with regulations coming into play right from 1992. “These regulations meant replacing old Freon with advanced Green options, which was implemented in 1995 across Sweden,” he says. “This meant the market need for retrofitting was overcome.” After that, there was nothing left to retrofit, as it had been replaced with new insulation or environmentally friendly installations that use natural refrigerants.

Sharing an opposing view, Monga asserts that retrofitting of existing buildings are high on the agenda for many end-users. “This is primarily to meet local legislative and energy-efficiency goals set by the EU, as well as to reduce energy and water consumption,” he says.

“Retrofitting helps create a positive impact on climate change.” Citing an example of retrofitting, Monga highlights pumping applications on domestic circulator pumps, which are measured on an Energy Efficiency Index (EEI). The EEI of all new and replacement circulators, which will be retrofitted instead of existing pumps, have to be less than or equal to 0.23, he says.

Retrofit uptake

The revival of retrofitting means there is an increased focus and methodology. As Johansson states, the percentage of retrofit project assignments are approximately 30-50% across new modern energy-efficient products and systems. “Exhaust ventilation will change to supply/exhaust and heat recovery, followed by demand control in air distribution products for buildings,” he adds.

From a business perspective, Monga speaks of how Grundfos is seeing an uptake in retrofit, with nearly 10-12% of projects being retrofit assignments.” The scope varies to include replacement of existing equipment, the inclusion of new and more intelligent controls to existing pumping equipment as well as installation of digital solutions, he says.

Overcoming roadblocks

Interestingly, with change always comes the challenge. This is especially true in Scandinavia, with growing interest in advance technologies in the HVAC industry. This is because good heating has always been a necessity due to the cold climate in the Norse region. As the primary energy use of buildings is about 40% of energy demand, good energy efficiency has been on the Norse agenda for decades. The harsh climatic conditions have also made people demand a good and comfortable indoor environment. These requirements have also given rise to several challenges within the industry. Johansson says the main challenges for the construction industry are to reduce energy consumption, the impact on the environment and global warming, and to design or construct something that has a long lifetime and a reduced lifetime cost. “These are the major concerns as we do not just consider the installation costs but look at it like LCC (Life Cycle Costs),” he says.

Weighing in on the subject, Monga says HVACR – specifically heating – represent the highest energy-intensive applications with buildings. One of the challenges faced within the buildings and construction industry, he says, is the difference between the design or intended design, and the final product. While the consulting engineers/designers intend to design and execute the most efficient HVAC systems, in reality, the execution may not reflect this, he says, adding that this typically arises from the lack of proper controls and equipment commissioning. “It isn’t enough to just have the most efficient equipment and correct design,” he says. “Commissioning is the third very important part of the equation to deliver on the intended performance.” Monga sees several steps that need to be taken within existing buildings, such as adopting digital analytical tools and replacing older equipment with new and smarter self-controlling equipment, which help find and overcome shortages.

Adding to this, Häggström says the biggest challenge is to find competent staff followed by inflation and long delivery times of certain materials, which can disturb the business.

Environmentally consciousness 2.0

Several challenges across Scandinavia are overcome with constant research. Key findings from REHVA state that when moving more towards the use of renewable energy sources, the demand side management becomes vitally important. The use of energy should match with production. ICT applications with reliable building simulation and control systems become more important. In long run, the EU, with Scandinavian countries in the first row, will stop combustion as a source of heating, first coal and later the other fuels. The Finnish government has decided to place a ban on the burning of coal for energy production by 2029. This will lead to an innovative new use of integrated energy systems, not only at the buildings level but also at the community level. In Scandinavian countries, this development will be the first, as there are no extensive natural gas networks to supply cleaner fuel for heating.

“There is some new development every week,” Johansson says, pointing to the dynamic nature of work involved. Citing an example, he explains there is an association in Sweden recovering all plastic waste material that is recycled. This recycled material will be converted to biodegradable bottles as well used to make washing powder or dishwasher powder. The factory for plastic recycling is spread across 60,000 square metres in the southern part of Sweden. The facility is a zero-energy building, with solar panels installed on the roof, and spanning 60,000 square metres. This is being done to avoid buying electrical energy. “Similarly, many houses in Sweden are now installing solar panels on the roof,” he adds.

 Futuristically natural

In Johansson’s view, the next bet would be fuel cells and hydrogen. “Fuel cells are a very good invention,” he says. “When used in a car, the only residue that comes out is water and steam, with no emissions.” Interestingly, the source for the fuel cells is hydrogen, which can be split up by electrolytic catalysts from water, which can be used as petro hydrogen or green hydrogen. “The concept of using hydrogen was unknown a few years ago but now is developing at supersonic speed,” Johansson points out. Hydrogen fuel cells are very easy to produce. They can be produced locally with just water, wind turbine or solar panel and stored in tanks like gasoline. Hydrogen can be used across industries, be it transportation, oil or even the construction industry.

Johansson explains that for the HVACR industry, hydrogen can be used as a kind of a power source for remote installations, characterised by absence of grids. They can also be used to complement the conventional grids, in order to reduce operating costs. “Interestingly, one can have a small shop in a remote village or forest without any grid network,” he says. “With hydrogen fuel cells, you have the air conditioning running.”

Swede story

H.E. Massoud Biouki, Sweden Trade Commissioner in the UAE, describes the quintessential Swedish mindset on sustainability

Sustainability is one of the absolute top priorities of the Swedish government. Sweden is known worldwide as a powerhouse within sustainability. Currently, roughly 60% of energy in Sweden is from renewable energy sources, and the Government has set a goal to reach 100% by 2040. Through a strong collaboration between the government, academia and private sector innovations, we are well on the way to meeting the goal. Specifically, for the HVAC industry, Sweden has set a target to reduce energy consumption by 50% by 2050. To achieve this, there is a major focus on sustainable HVAC and energy efficiency from the Swedish government.

H.E. Massoud Biouki

The country is also ranked one of the world’s most innovative countries, frequently ranking in the top five in different categories. The majority of innovation spending comes from multinational companies spending on research and development, and this, of course, includes companies within the HVAC industry. The Swedish Government has also allocated resources to promote energy-efficient ventilation solutions within the HVAC industry. All these factors are more towards cleaner air.  

Better IAQ

Sweden is a country with the cleanest air in the world, having said that, there is always room for improvement. The Swedish government is continuously working to acknowledge that improved indoor air quality (IAQ) is a way to protect public health.

In 2018, the Swedish government took a big step in allocating USD 1.8 million in the yearly governmental budget – and an additional USD 3.2 million over the coming three years – to enhance IAQ in Sweden. The allocated funds focused mainly on creating platforms to enhance knowledge about improved IAQ, but also focused on solutions to achieve this, namely ventilation and filtration technologies. Further, new regulations recently implemented reward buildings with demand control of ventilation.  

Sustainably strong

Sweden has always had a strong focus on sustainable practices, and this is something that is seen as a cornerstone of many regulations and standards. Energy efficiency is also a key part of the Swedish industry, in general, and of the HVAC industry, in particular – Swedish solutions have always aimed to be as energy-efficient as possible, as this contributes to improved sustainability, overall. Finally, Swedish standards have for a very long time had a strong focus on durability and quality, to construct buildings and systems that last for a long time, which in turn contributes to a higher level of sustainability.

Fredrik Häggström

As sustainability is a key part of Swedish projects, all construction and large-scale projects undertaken in the country normally include a heavy emphasis on long-term sustainability. However, one key notable project is the Hammarby Sjöstad development project, in southern Stockholm, which is one of the world’s most mentioned and visited eco-friendly and sustainable reference cases for urban developments. This project incorporates sustainability in all aspects of the project and development lifecycle.

District cooling in Stockholm

It might seem strange, considering the cold climate, but the District Cooling network in Stockholm is the world’s largest district cooling system, based on the number of customers it serves. It covers almost all of downtown Stockholm.

While Sweden doesn’t need as much cooling for indoor living purposes as in the GCC region, due to the cold climate, there is an abundance of cold water supply that can be used in the district cooling system. In addition to that, the Swedish District Heating system is also world-leading, and many Swedish companies from this industry are active on a global level as both consultants and solution providers.

Specifically, for this region, we see a large and untapped potential for increased collaboration between the GCC region and Sweden with regard to district cooling, where Sweden can once again contribute with competence and expertise to drive sustainable growth in the district cooling sector in the GCC region.

After 1973

Lars-Olof Johansson from Engelholms KylKonsult takes us through a trip down memory lane to events that shaped the sustainability ethos in much of Scandinavia…

It all started in 1973, when following the war between Israel and the Arab countries, Scandinavia was plunged in an oil crisis.

Across Scandinavia, or even overall Europe, there was little chance of procuring oil to heat even the buildings. During this period, in a bid to reduce oil consumption, the Swedish government laid down a programme for people living in independent buildings to improve insulation. This would be for all ventilation insulations in a bid to reduce energy consumption. Furthermore, the government paid up to 35% of the installation cost as a kind of subsidiary.

The government-led initiative, which lasted 15 years, witnessed a 20% reduction in total energy consumption in Sweden. This was a huge step. The regulation on refrigerants followed in 1992. As per the regulation, the government gave substantial subsidies and loans with low or zero interest to encourage more green effective installations.


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