In critical environments such as laboratories, clean rooms and data centres, energy use can far exceed that of similarly sized office space. Improvements in technology and advances in energy management strategies are providing opportunities to save energy and reduce costs in these environments while maintaining occupant safety and comfort. There are quick wins to be had and there are a number of strategies that can assist to maximise benefits.
Air exchange rate: Air inside of the critical environment is often continuously replaced with outside air to protect occupants in critical environments. In many cases, the rate at which air is exchanged in these spaces exceeds what is necessary. Determining if the space may use recirculated air or may recapture heat through equipment like a heat wheel may reduce operating costs associated with space conditioning.
HVAC capacity requirements: Air systems must evolve alongside changes in the use of the critical environment. Unnecessary, inefficient or legacy HVAC equipment should be decommissioned or upgraded, while expansion of facilities and scientific equipment may require HVAC systems to be updated or HVAC settings to be adjusted.
Improving the responsiveness of air systems:Significant savings may be achieved by upgrading air systems to more responsive variable air volume (VAV) instead of constant volume (CV) equipment. Improved dynamics in the air system offer energy saving opportunities by allowing the equipment to adjust to changes in occupancy, time and equipment usage.
Upgrading fume hoods and controls: Installing efficient laboratory fume hoods for effective removal of dangerous fumes can lower demands on building air systems. New features in fume hoods include automatic door closure systems and motion sensors that adjust airflow if a user is nearby.
The best energy efficiency strategies will, however, combine technology with management. Critical environment air systems which incorporate automatic calibration features can adjust airflow and operate more efficiently, while improved fault detection for building equipment provides the opportunity to avoid unscheduled downtime and unexpected costs.
HVAC equipment and building management systems will continue to advance, offering new features, automation, and intelligent configuration of systems. In critical environments, staying abreast of these new developments is important as the benefits in terms of safety and cost efficiencies can be significant in the long- and short-term.