ENERGY plays a crucial role in our daily lives, and in our economy. More than just a basic human necessity, energy is a strong indicator of social and economic development. As our world becomes more and more urbanised, we are witnessing a rapid increase in the global demand for energy, with predictions for growth of up to 55% over the next 10 years.
In fact, since 1980, energy consumption in the Middle East has grown faster than the region’s GDP. With some of the highest consumption rates in the world, energy demand in the GCC region has been fuelled by population growth, infrastructure developments and the emergence of energy-intensive industries. With this comes increasing concern around energy security, economic competitiveness and, of course, environmental impact. These concerns have resulted in a global focus on energy-use reduction, with sustainability becoming less of an afterthought and more of a necessity. Government entities and private organisations around the world are increasingly implementing measures to support smarter energy consumption and improve efficiency, in line with the United Nations Net Zero Coalition. The UAE, for example, has outlined a strategy to reduce carbon footprint by 70% by 2050. Saudi Arabia has gone a step farther, announcing plans to reach zero-net emissions by 2060.
But questions remain regarding what can be done to achieve these ambitious targets. To make meaningful progress, we must first understand the largest contributors to energy usage and carbon emissions. Air conditioning in the built environment is, no doubt, one of the larger contributing factors, accounting for a staggering 50-70% of energy demand in buildings in cities. This figure is likely to be even higher for the Middle East, particularly during the summer months.
Interestingly, for HVAC and plumbing systems, only five per cent of the lifetime carbon footprint can be traced to the manufacturing of components. The remaining 95% stems from energy usage during the operating life of the equipment. Clearly, then, improved performance efficiencies in HVAC systems offer tremendous potential for reducing overall energy demand.
While HVAC and plumbing systems operate highly efficiently when first installed, over time, system efficiency ‘drifts’ away from the original levels of performance. This ‘performance drift’ ultimately results in systems failing to meet cooling demand, despite operating at elevated levels. In this state, operating costs are unnecessarily high, and occupant comfort is negatively impacted. It is unfortunate that many facilities operators accept the loss of efficiency in mechanical systems as inevitable. Performance drift can, in fact, be prevented and even reversed by combining intelligent strategies with high-performing systems. With smart pumps, savings start from day one, as they perform more effectively to meet demand.
For example, variable-speed pumps are an effective solution to optimise system performance in buildings. The integration of a perfectly matched pump, motor, intelligent variable-speed controls and a cloud-based active performance management software, creates the highest efficiency pumping solution.
The integrated intelligence allows the variable-speed pump to respond to real-time system conditions, dynamically adjusting equipment operation to match system demand and run at optimal speeds. The result is a highly efficient system that delivers substantial energy and cost savings, compared to conventional, fixed-speed pumps. With most systems operating at less than 60% capacity for more than 90% of the time, variable pumping technology is the most effective way to optimise energy efficiency.
Such smart pumps also utilise sensorless control, which adjusts head, flow, power and speed settings, based on demand, to optimise performance and to enhance energy saving. The building services industry has come to understand that intelligent pumps can function as highly accurate flow meters that provide valuable insights for building managers and operators. The addition of an active performance management software enables real-time data and system performance to be tracked and reduces the likelihood of performance drift. Monitoring the fluid flow rates of connected pumps helps to optimise energy efficiency and manage operating costs by acting as important indicators of system performance.
Adding such capabilities to HVAC systems will provide valuable insights for building managers and operators. Beyond optimising energy efficiency, a pump manager subscription service also helps to create safer and more comfortable indoor environments through predictive maintenance. The early detection of issues through real-time alerts, helps to prevent escalation to the point of systematic failures or service disruptions, protecting occupant comfort at all times.
Some building operators may be hesitant to upgrade their HVAC systems owing to the initial investment required for such technologically advanced systems. However, the returns from using more efficient systems show the value of careful investments. Statistics indicate that regular commissioning of equipment prevents a nine per cent performance degradation, helping to maintain optimal long-term pump efficiency, maximise uptime, and avoid disruptions or emergency repair costs.
After years of experience, my recommended strategy for upgrading mechanical systems in buildings starts with upgrading the pumps first. With intelligent connected pumps installed, operators are able to make informed decisions regarding upgrading their system to the most effective and correctly sized HVAC equipment in the future. Using flow data to accurately inform sizing for larger ticket items, such as chillers, can lead to considerable cost-savings by preventing oversizing. Simple payback is usually reached within 3-5 years, but better yet energy savings can continue for the life of the system. This enables building owners to achieve up to 40% savings on consumption for HVAC operation.
Currently, cities are accountable for over 60% of resource use and an estimated 70% of global carbon emissions. As our urban centres continue to expand, so too does our demand for key resources, such as energy. Fortunately, there has been a noticeable shift towards the adoption of greener solutions. Soon, the integration of sustainable practices into the construction industry will no longer be just a value-added benefit but rather a requirement for projects to gain acceptance and succeed.
To meet carbon reduction targets within the timelines put forward by climate experts, the pace of progress must increase, requiring bold action from stakeholders in all industry sectors. Consultants must do more to put forward mechanical system designs that take into consideration ASHRAE 90.1 guidelines and green building applications to promote a sustainable culture in the region. This will enable technology-driven companies to continue developing and offering products which meet or exceed both those guidelines. But one cannot occur without the other, which is why it is imperative that all parties support an integrated strategy for energy efficiency.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org