How can airports reduce carbon footprint with optimized HVAC?

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Airports are essential for a global society, in large part because they play a central role in quickly and efficiently transporting both people and cargo. Over the past decades, airport usage and their physical size have continued to grow to accommodate the steeply increasing number of passengers – 4.5 billion in 2019 alone. While this growth is currently being impacted by COVID-19, the upward trend is expected to continue.

The downside of the industry’s growth is that airports, along with the entire aviation sector, have a considerable carbon footprint. A large airport’s daily electricity and thermal energy use compares to that of a city of 100,000 people, and the global aviation industry as a whole contributes around 2% of total global carbon emissions. This is quite significant for a single industry. With that type of impact, it’s clear that airports must make a serious commitment to reducing their carbon emissions and overall energy use.

Increase airport sustainability by improving energy efficiency

That’s the message coming from both government policy like the EU Green Deal and global airport associations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI), which are setting ambitious goals to improve sustainability. Already some of the world’s largest, forward-thinking airports are turning their focus to sustainability and are being recognized for their accomplishment on meeting the Airport Carbon Accreditation requirements.

Airports that concentrate on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint benefit from significant cost savings from improved energy efficiency, in addition to meeting environmental goals.  Sustainability improvements often start by focusing on airports’ biggest energy consumer – heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC). The sustainability-driven operators of Terminal 4 at New York’s JFK airport, for example, identified $1,575,000 in energy savings through “low-to-no cost improvements” by auditing the operation of its buildings’ systems – primarily HVAC.

Increase airport sustainability by improving energy efficiency

Cut your airport’s carbon footprint cost effectively

For many airports, improving HVAC is still an untapped opportunity. HVAC uses the most energy  – about 50% – yet upgrading and improving HVAC systems is a relatively easy win for airports because improvements can be made quickly and cost efficiently with minimal effect on passengers.  For example, a report found that airports could save an estimated 3,500 tons of CO2 and €70,000 a year through  simple actions like re-setting heating controls and replacing faulty sensors.

Optimize HVAC systems for better control and management

Advanced airports are using connected, digitized HVAC equipment. The system’s IoT technology, like sensors and metering, provides real-time updates on system performance, enables condition-based monitoring, and uses predictive analytics to keep HVAC systems running reliably and in an optimized state. This is key because many airports are a round-the-clock operation and there is no time to shut down HVAC systems for a major repair. They are also high-traffic areas and any operational failure could be unsafe for those in the vicinity.

Airport HVAC systems must be reliable, responsive, and maintain indoor air quality. Using innovative, smart HVAC systems improves engineering efficiency and gives airports better control and management of their systems. This allows for better energy use and provides the ability to save energy by adjusting the temperature based on real-time requirements. The data analysis from sensor information takes into account the many factors and challenges of heating and cooling a large building with a constantly changing occupancy level. In addition, airports can use variable speed drives (VSD) to control the speed of pumps and fans, thus only using as much energy as needed. The result is minimized wasted energy, optimized system performance and improved airflow to ensure a comfortable environment for airline passengers and workers.

Learn how Bristol Airport meets its energy goals

Bristol Airport in the UK, for example, is making progress toward its energy goals through increased integration, efficiency, and control of HVAC throughout many areas of the airport. Using innovative building management system technology, the airport has gained control of its energy use with features like system integration and remote access that makes site control easier and ensures energy goals are met. Changes like these have helped the airport reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 4.1% per year.

Want to learn more? See how we can help bring greater sustainability to your business and operations.

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