Global energy issue takes center stage

While it's impossible to summarize the global energy challenge, the HVAC-R industry, and ourselves (as engineers, parents, and consumers) into a few succinct paragraphs, here's a summary of the findings from the EnVisioneering Symposium Series, launched in August 2006 by Danfoss Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning, Baltimore.

By John Galyen, President, Danfoss Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning, Baltimore December 1, 2007

While it’s impossible to summarize the global energy challenge, the HVAC-R industry, and ourselves (as engineers, parents, and consumers) into a few succinct paragraphs, here’s a summary of the findings from the EnVisioneering Symposium Series, launched in August 2006 by Danfoss Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning, Baltimore.

1 |The global energy challenge is so complex that it is difficult for any one person, business, or industry segment to wrap its arms around all of the variables. It’s like trying to accurately predict the weather. Even the so-called experts can’t provide clear direction because the variables constantly are changing. To borrow an old phrase: To eat an elephant, you must eat it one portion at a time.

2 |Compared to the billions of energy consumers, there are a relatively small number of passionate leaders on the global energy front. These leaders must continue to push for change and drive solutions. This won’t be easy. It never is when multiple stakeholders and multiple interests are involved. But through their passion, commitment, and dogged determination, these leaders make a difference in how we perceive and tackle the global energy challenge.

3 |The federal government needs to take a leadership role in driving home change and preventing a patchwork landscape. For example, there needs to be a uniform call to the HVAC-R industry regarding the rules and regulations that govern energy efficiency. Historically, our industry responds best when rules and regulations are mandated; the 13 seasonal energy efficiency ratio mandate is a good example. But, like building codes for new construction, appliance standards can only go so far. We need some type of policy initiatives to ensure the lifecycle efficiency of buildings and equipment.

Meanwhile, the federal government can learn a few things about energy efficiency from state governments. Many states now offer incentive programs to help businesses and consumers use more energy-efficient equipment. This approach uses a “carrot,” and not only the “stick” to drive change.

4 |Energy efficiency is the short-term play for immediate energy—and operating cost—savings. There are plenty of things that our industry can do right now to save energy, from reducing energy consumption and eliminating waste to enhancing recycling efforts and reducing the loss of source versus site energy.

At the fourth EnVisioneering Symposium, Roger Kranenburg, director of the Edison Electric Institute, Washington, D.C., emphasized that the electric industry is “committed to making needed investments in energy efficiency, generation, transmission, distribution, and the environment.” He noted that the industry increased capital expenditures by 30% from 2005 ($46.5 billion) to 2006 (approximately $60 billion). Despite the promise and potential of efficiency improvements, the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects the need to add capacity to the grid, as shown in Figure 1, and most of it from natural gas and coal. Clearly, engineers will continue to play a key role in minimizing losses across the energy generation, transmission, distribution, and end-use continuum.

Moreover, an abundance of energy-efficient technologies already exist: technologies that are cost-effective and economically viable. At the fifth EnVisioneering Symposium, “Making Dollars and Sense of Energy Efficiency: A Focus on Conservation,” Bruce Manning, chief engineer for the Operating Engineers Trust Funds, Pasadena, Calif., emphasized that emerging technology is a key to future energy efficiency.

“Ultra-efficient, centralized chiller plants are now possible, thanks to new compressor technology and control strategies,” he said. “New technology has created a paradigm shift in regard to energy-efficiency planning. As an industry, we need to investigate, trust, and employ new technology to reduce energy usage and lessen the dependency on foreign oil and the burden on already stretched generation capabilities.”

5 |Innovation will be required to address the mid- and long-term challenges of energy efficiency. Take the automotive industry, for example. Not long ago, a hybrid gas-electric car wasn’t even a figment of some engineer’s imagination. Now hybrid cars are not only an economic reality, they’re gaining popularity among consumers. If we are obsessively innovative today, we will plant the seeds to sprout new energy-efficient technologies 10, 20, or even 30 years from now.

We need innovation because energy costs continue to escalate. For example, natural gas prices are higher in the United States than in the rest of the world, and as much as five times the price of natural gas in the Middle East, according to Rachael Halpern, energy and environmental industries trade specialist for the U.S. Commerce Dept., Washington, D.C.

She predicts that U.S. natural gas production will remain flat over the next 20 to 25 years. One possible solution? Opening new U.S. areas to oil and natural gas production could increase domestic supplies and reduce prices, Halpern said.

Another possible solution is liquified natural gas (LNG). David Shin, chief economist and director of statistics for the American Gas Association, who also spoke at the fourth EnVisioneering Symposium, anticipates that LNG will help “fill the gap between demand and supply from now until 2020.” Americans are nervous, however, about having LNG tankers in their ports because they are attractive terrorist targets, and LNG depots are complex and costly facilities to build.

6 |Energy is, and probably always will be, a national security concern. You needn’t look any further than post-Sept. 11 America and the Iraq War. Our global energy regime is being exposed to new, significant, and highly dispersed threats and risks, and the situation is not likely to get any easier.

That sentiment was shared by Raymond L. Orbach, the Dept. of Energy’s undersecretary for science, who addressed the third EnVisioneering Symposium, “Energy Futures: America Responds to 21st Century Energy Challenges,” held in December 2006. Orbach noted that dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil poses a growing risk to the U.S. economy, the environment, and national security. He recommended five “truly disruptive technologies” to transform America’s energy future: conservation, wind, nuclear, bioenergy, and fusion.

7 |Speaking of conservation, the symposia series has taught us that there is a significant difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency. For example, if we can slow demand for electricity, we are essentially “conserving” energy. Meanwhile, we can improve energy “efficiency” by implementing new technologies that better use electricity, natural gas, and other fuel sources.

Mark Bernstein, visiting professor for the Future Fuels and Energy Initiative at the University of Southern California, prefers the word “efficiency” to “conservation.” At the fifth En-Visioneering Symposium, Bernstein suggested that the United States needs to take immediate action to slow electricity demand or bolster efficiency methods.

“It’s going to take a sustained period of high energy prices and reliability problems (blackouts, for example) to really change people’s attitudes and behaviors about energy use and efficiency,” he said. “Because of critical environmental and political issues, we can’t wait for consumers to catch up. We need a long-term, sustained energy policy at the state and federal levels.”

8 |Mechanical engineers must be involved early in the development of a new, renovated, or retrofitted building, working closely with architects during the design phase. That point was driven home by Laura Lesniewski, principal, and Brad Nies, architect, Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell Architects, Kansas City, during the first EnVisioneering Symposium.

“In the traditional process, oftentimes an architect will design a building and then hand it over to the mechanical engineers to solve a problem in the environment,” Lesniewski said. “It’s a very inefficient process. So, if architects and engineers get together early (in the process), it can significantly impact our energy problem.” (For a related article, see “MEP engineers step up,” page 38).

9 |Building owners also need to take more leadership with their perspectives on lifecycle costs rather than first costs for construction and operations. Higher-efficiency equipment can cost more than lower-efficiency equipment, and to obtain the best efficiencies possible, more engineering time (and higher fees) may be needed for modeling and design. Also, owners need to hire qualified operators to run and maintain their facilities, or seek appropriate talent through outsourcing.

10 |Education and communication will continue to be important micro issues in the context of the larger macro issues. We know that technologies exist, and more are on the way, to cut energy use dramatically. We know that payback times are getting shorter, and we know that returns on investment are getting bigger. So why aren’t energy-efficient technologies flying off of the shelves?

Part of the problem is education and communication. Experience shows that recent technological advances are simply not well known, understood, or trusted in the marketplace. Creating a culture of energy efficiency must start with effective steps to educate and inform key players in the marketplace.

That was the theme of the sixth En-Visioneering Symposium held Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C., where Dennis Moran, eastern region director of energy for Marriott Inc., said one of the challenges facing Marriott is a “limited understanding of the energy issues and technologies among decision-makers and staff,” including building owners.

“People tend to avoid the areas they don’t understand,” Moran said. “The situation is improving, but from a very low base.” Also at that symposium, Karen Penafiel, vice president for advocacy with Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, Washington, D.C., highlighted two BOMA programs that have had recent success. The BOMA Energy Efficiency Program provides building owners with tips on reducing energy costs, while the Green Lease Guide gives building tenants guidelines for saving energy and being environmentally responsible. Those guidelines are part of a standard lease agreement, Penafiel said.

When it comes to national and global energy issues, there clearly is no silver bullet. Fortunately, we’re making progress. and putting the key issues on the table that can be discussed and measured.

What to expect in 2008

The EnVisioneering Symposium Series gives individual stakeholders—engineers, manufacturers, regulators, utilities, real estate investors, owners, managers, communicators, and strategists—a unique opportunity to meet and exchange ideas, information, and insights. In 2008, Danfoss will take the program to a higher level—with a series of micro-symposia designed to give stakeholders ideas and solutions to address the energy challenge on their terms. For more information or to register, visit