Arguably one of the most significant inventions since industrialization was the development of the first practical heat pump in 1755, which would lay the foundations for the modern HVAC and refrigeration we now take for granted in the developed world. Like so many of the innovations we count on today, the underlying principles of heat pump-based HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air conditioning) are the same now as they were in those original 1856 systems. Performance, though, has radically improved over the years, especially in terms of sustainable HVAC systems.
There are two aspects to consider when understanding the environmental impact of HVAC systems: the amount of energy they consume, and the effect of refrigerants used if they escape into the environment.
The heating and cooling of buildings alone account for 40% of all energy consumed in the European Union. Moreover, about 75% of buildings are energy inefficient (Eurostat 2020 research). How are we making the sector more sustainable and helping reduce our carbon footprint?
Sustainable HVAC solutions are a key part of electrification
Electrification can eliminate a building’s Scope 1 carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions by moving away from the use of fossil fuels. Heat pumps are an excellent way of producing heat using electricity. Because they use electricity to transfer heat from either the ground, water, or air rather than converting it directly into heat, they can produce as much as 4 units of heat for every unit of power consumed. This ‘400% Efficiency’ makes them a key weapon in our battle to address climate change.
Chillers for industrial processes also have a role to play in electrification beyond buildings and homes. Integrated and efficient refrigeration is important in applications such as electric vehicle charging stations, especially those that use HPC (High Power Charging) technology to reduce charge times. The faster an electric vehicle is recharged, the greater the power needed, which requires a cooling system to protect people and equipment. Liquid cooling chillers are the most efficient solution to address this need.
How we’re making heat pumps and HVAC more energy efficient
There are various new applications and advances in technology that can make HVAC more efficient. As I mentioned, a heat pump at 400% energy efficiency is a far more efficient and sustainable way of generating heat than natural gas or other fossil fuels.
Effectively controlling these systems for optimal efficiency and sustainability requires highly specialized solutions. Eliwell by Schneider Electric was founded in 1980 and has been solely focused on the needs of refrigeration and HVAC ever since. We offer a range of dedicated controllers and components that exactly match the needs of today’s retail, commercial, industrial, and residential HVAC applications. The Modicon M171-172 programmable control platform, for example, is DIN rail mounted for fast installation, as well as scalable and connectable.
Improving the refrigerants used in HVAC solutions
Another (and no less important aspect) of sustainable HVAC systems is the type of refrigerants they use. Freon, a fluorinated gas (Fgas) was discovered in the 1920s, however, if or indeed any CFC/HFC escapes into the environment (e.g., in the case of a leak) it lives for 100 years in the atmosphere and is very harmful to the ozone layer.
Now we use refrigerants like R600a (Isobutane) which only lives 12 years give or take and does far less damage to the ozone layer. Also, Carbon Dioxide (R744) offers the promise to build machines that are smaller and more efficient than traditional ones. Plus, it’s a substance that occurs naturally and is readily available. At Schneider Electric, this is something we’ve worked towards with various products as part of our sustainability targets.
HVAC-R machines and heat pumps specifically have a significant impact on the environmental footprint. The urgent need to address climate change, while maintaining our comfort and food quality, puts HVAC front and center. Demand for more new efficient HVAC systems with environmentally friendly refrigerants is on the rise. Advanced control systems that can handle the growing needs of the HVAC sector are a vital part of the global battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.