One of the advantages of running a magazine for long is the vast volume of historical data available. In 2016, we ran a cover story on perhaps one of the most significant interventions in improving not only energy efficiency and Indoor Air Quality but also in preserving equipment health – plugging leaky ductwork. The basis of the story was that billions of dollars are lost through allowing valuable thermal energy to escape through leaky ductwork.
One of the persons we interviewed then was Max Sherman, Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in the United States, who said leaky ductwork is an energy-hog that is hidden from view. Speaking of California, where he undertook substantial research on the subject, he said that ducting systems typically leak 20-40% of the state’s heating and cooling energy. State-wide, he said, the potential savings from improving ducts is between one and two gigawatts (GW) of electricity alone. Imagine that!
The cover story we carried in 2016 had inputs from Asia, Australia and Europe, and the percentage of leak was as bad, if not worse. In the Middle East, shockingly enough, the energy loss was peaking at up to 60-70% for buildings 15 years and older. What is even more damning is that the problem has not disappeared from our midst, simply because the challenge remains – it is not easy to tear down existing ductwork – unless of course, if one were to explore options that do not require disruptions.
Climatologists are wringing their hands in frustration, as are policymakers, over runaway greenhouse gas emissions. It is laudable that manufacturers of HVACR equipment are pushing various solutions through, but very little effort is being taken to plug the leak. It can be argued that it is easier to achieve energy savings through air curtains, thermal energy storage – high capex notwithstanding – and VFDs, but what’s stopping us from fully exploring and implementing what we can to close the leak.
It is time we became serious about tackling the energy-hog to the ground, considering that the leak percentage only increases with the ageing of the building. And it is an altogether different – and tragic – story that the issue manifests itself in New Construction, as well, which raises questions galore about modern-day construction and commissioning practices. Oh, well… that’s another issue for discussion in another issue of the magazine!