Energy efficiency in HVAC products made headlines this past year, mostly due to the ongoing global phaseout of CFCs and subsequently, HCFCs, used as the refrigerant in most systems, and government efficiency standards, such as the U.S. DOE's SEER standards for central air-conditioners and heat pumps.
This year was particularly newsworthy for the air-conditioning industry, which celebrated a milestone on July 17, the 100th anniversary of the invention of the air-conditioner, one of the appliances that most dramatically changed people's lives in the 20th century.
Dr. Willis Carrier is credited with submitting the design of the first mechanical air-conditioning system on July 17, 1902. The first modern air-conditioning system was installed at a Brooklyn, NY, U.S. printing plant that summer to help stabilize the temperature and moisture in the air so that the dimensions of the paper within the plant would remain constant and the different color inks would correctly line up. Dr. Carrier is credited as revolutionizing the air-conditioning industry worldwide, bringing mechanical cooling first to manufacturing processes such as textile mills and printing plants, and eventually to public spaces such as movie theaters, department stores, office buildings, the U.S. Capitol, and homes.
Setting the Standard
After much debate, the Bush Administration, the DOE, and HVAC makers in May decided upon a 20-percent efficiency increase in the SEER standard for air-conditioners and heat pumps. The Clinton Administration originally proposed a 30-percent increase in 2000 before former President Clinton left office.
DOE and the Bush administration agreed upon on a 12 SEER standard and a 20-percent increase. The Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI) supported the 20-percent increase, stating that the consumer would have been financially affected if 30-percent increases were put in place. ARI argued that consumers would pay more for energy efficiency when their pocketbooks allow it, but deserve to have a range of choices to meet a family budget. The higher increase, or a 30-percent increase, ARI argued, would have resulted in costs for many that would not be justified by the energy savings.
Others argued that a 13 SEER would have eliminated a majority, more than 80 percent some said, of all new central air-conditioning models in the market today, and 86 percent of all new heat pumps.
Yet Houston, TX, U.S.-based Goodman Manufacturing Inc., which owns Amana Heating and Air Conditioning among other HVAC companies, strongly opposed ARI's and DOE's support of the 12 SEER, arguing that the 13 SEER would have provided cost savings and helped the environment
Even today, some argue that the 20-percent standard is only a small victory for the Bush Administration and consumers. Albeit a small amount, buying air-conditioners won't ever recover the higher costs through energy savings. Instead, says Glenn R. Schleede, an independent consultant who writes frequently on government policies and has studied this issue, a consumer's chance of recovering the higher cost of air-conditioners and other products meeting DOE-dictated standards depends on energy prices and the frequency of which appliances are used.
Despite the debate, consumers are buying energy-efficient HVAC products. According to GAMA, strong shipments of gas warm air central furnaces with Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings of 88 percent and above continue to reflect the growing inclination of consumers to purchase more efficient heating equipment.
GAMA statistics show that 27.9 percent of the gas warm air central furnaces shipped in 2001 had AFUE ratings of 88 percent and above, which represents a 4.3-percent increase over 2000. Correspondingly, the percentage of gas warm air central furnaces shipped in 2001 in the less than 88 percent AFUE category decreased by 4.3 percent.
For 2000 and 2001, all shipments of oil warm air central furnaces had AFUE ratings between the 75 percent and 87.9 percent AFUE federal minimum efficiency requirement for furnaces designed for installation in mobile homes.
Despite some of the issues associated with CFC and HCFC replacement and phaseout, world demand for heating, venting, and air-conditioning equipment is strong: it's projected to increase nearly 5 percent per year through 2006, reaching U.S. $110 billion. According to a report by research firm the Freedonia Group, particularly favorable prospects will be found in the Asia/Pacific region (excluding Japan), where ongoing industrialization and rising personal incomes will provide opportunities for suppliers. The Asia/Pacific region, says the report, will benefit from above-average capital investment growth and healthy gains in the number of households. China, already the second largest market in the region, is expected to continue to post strong growth. Latin America will also provide favorable opportunities for HVAC suppliers, the report says, due to the ongoing industrialization and urbanization of the region. Above-average growth is also expected in the Africa/Mideast region.
Room air-conditioners are expected to exhibit above-average gains through 2006 due to significant untapped market potential in numerous countries, especially in developing regions. In addition, the report notes that low ownership rates in Western Europe (relative to other industrialized nations such as the U.S. and Japan) will present opportunities.
According to a report by BSRIA Worldwide Marketing Intelligence, the best performing regions for air-conditioning are southern Europe and the East Asia region. "As southern Europe consumers have realized that air-conditioning is an affordable commodity, the markets have soared, but with more of the market dominated by global minisplit players from Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China. Because of current uncertainties in India, the report says that the Indian market is only experiencing modest growth, but is expected to return to rapid growth in 2003. North America and Latin America should experience 2-percent growth.
BSRIA notes that minisplit units remain the key driving force in the world market, accounting for almost half of all product types by value. China remains the world's key driver in this area, with 4 million units produced between 2000 and 2004. The report also says that there are a number of major and fast-growing markets in southern Europe. In addition, BSRIA says that minisplit production is becoming increasingly concentrated; only 8 countries have production in excess of 200,000 units, with China, Japan, and Korea controlling 85 percent of the world's production. BSRIA says that China and Korea are now challenging the competitive production facilities of Malaysia and Thailand, while Japan, the world's second largest producer, is now a net importer.
What will the future air-conditioning systems look like? Perhaps they will be smart enough to tell you how efficiently they are running, shut themselves off during energy use peaks, or perform self-diagnostic tests. Perhaps such systems will be available soon, as energy-wise appliance makers are already testing web-enabled air-conditioners.
John Swainson, general manager of IBM's Application and Integration Middleware Division, says that wireless home energy-management systems are just around the corner and can provide an enormous opportunity for using appliances more wisely. Mr. Swainson says that wireless home-energy management systems could have a big impact on energy bills, reducing energy costs by 35 percent by applying sophisticated energy efficient measures, like linking water heaters to air-conditioners and other appliances.
Mr. Swainson says that beyond the web-enabled air-conditioner, additional ways that wireless technology can help conserve energy in the home include a wireless meter that can be used to monitor energy remotely. According to Mr. Swainson, a utility company in Washington, U.S. has outfitted 1 million homes and businesses with automated meters, and is piloting a "time-of-use" pricing option - higher during peak times, lower during off-hours.
In addition, Mr. Swainson offers that the web can be a portal for energy savings and up-to-the-minute energy-related information. "Utilities and government agencies could have web sites that provide online energy estimators, graphs indicating energy supply versus demand, and alerts on where blackouts will roll next," he says.
Breathing Clean Air
Most Americans believe their home is a safe, clean, and healthy haven from the rough and tumble outside world. However, it is not as healthy as we would like to think, say indoor quality experts and others involved in the medical community. The U.S. EPA claims that indoor air on average is three to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
How did it get this way? Says Dr. Tom Griffin, an independent air quality expert and a director of the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA), "By eliminating drafts and leaks, what we call air exchanges, our homes are now like hermetically sealed envelopes. These airtight havens now trap and hold a growing list of pollutants such as mold spores, dust, airborne pollutants, pet dander, textile treatments, excess humidity, gaseous pollutants, and bacteria in the air we breathe."
The solutions may lie in air cleaner and treatment systems that often do not require installation. In addition, thanks to the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) label, which was developed by AHAM and its members, there may be less confusion from consumers about how to purchase a room air cleaner. The CADR label on the box of an air cleaner means that the model has been tested for performance in terms of particulate removal and rated according to room size. Member manufacturers of air cleaners have the CADR seal and ratings for tobacco smoke, dust, and pollen displayed on the air cleaner package. All consumers need to know is the size of the room in which the air cleaner will be used.
Broan-NuTone offers a retrofitting filtration system that is said to clean indoor air so well that the air is virtually free of allergen materials down to 0.3 microns in size - a human hair is 150 microns. The company's GuardianPlus™ Whole House HEPA Air Systems are small enough to fit in cramped furnace rooms - even closets - and according to the company, are available for less than half the cost of older, bulkier, and less-effective home air cleaning technologies. The company's GuardianPlus Air Systems Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) measures 29.4-in high x 22.9-in long x 17.8-in deep and can be installed either vertically or horizontally.
Blueair AB of Stockholm, Sweden offers a new air purifier that purifies a room 19.5 m2 with six air exchanges an hour. Its biggest feature may be what it is not doing: making a lot of noise. It is said to operate so quietly that it uses a blue "power on" light so that users know that it has been turned on. It comes with an environmentally sound filter made of non-toxic, hydrophobic polypropylene that is said to be proven microbial. The air flow rate varies from 126 m3/hr to 336 m3/hr, depending on the speed selected.
Earlier this year Lennox Industries introduced its new PureAire™ air purification system, an appliance that cleans the air in a home better than any other system on the market, according to the company and independent test results. To further emphasize its commitment to consumer health and indoor quality, the company entered into an educational cooperative agreement with the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA).
Using a combination of UV light and photo-catalytic oxidation technology, the PureAir system reportedly captures and destroys 75 percent of particles and 60 percent of bioaerosols as small as 0.3 microns. The company says that the system also removes and destroys 50 percent of odor and chemical content in a home in a 24-hr period.