Variable Speed Compressors to Revolutionize Efficiency Standards

Almost every manufacturer of HVAC equipment is currently scrambling to bring to market variable speed units with either Copeland or Danfoss inverter driven compressors.  Variable speed geothermal heat pumps being manufactured by WaterFurnace (7-Series) and Climatemaster (Trilogy 40) will purportedly reach previously unattainable efficiency levels and have COPs (Coefficient of Performance) between 6 and 7 and EERs (Energy Efficiency Ratio) above 40. In air-cooled heat pump situations, variable speed technology will increase HSPFs (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) by more than 15%, allowing for better performance at lower outdoor ambient temperatures. Carrier’s Infinity heat pump with “Greenspeed” offers HSPFs up to 13.

Variable speed compressors also offer the advantage of much lower starting amperage and improved power factors, which will lessen the impact of power draw on the grid by reducing transformer load and grid losses. Capacity modulation upon demand will significantly reduce air conditioning power requirements and help prevent demand spikes that occur in standard on/off cycles.  Of course, rotary variable speed compressors have been available for some time in VRF systems, but the advent of a variable speed scroll compressor will open the technology to a much wider market in U.S. manufactured equipment. Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. 73% of the energy we consume is in the form of electricity and 20% of our electricity goes to power air conditioning systems. In general, variable speed air conditioners are 15-40% more energy efficient than comparable single speed air conditioners, so the impact will be tremendous.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

Making Economic Sense of Air Conditioning SEER Replacement Options

It will be close to 100 degrees in the New York area today. This is the type of weather that older HVAC systems fail in: right when you need them the most. Consumers often are faced with multiple choices when dealing with catastrophic equipment failure and it can be very confusing, especially when consulting several different contractors each with a myriad of options. Choices range from just replacing a failed compressor or fan motor to changing out one side of the system (condensing unit or air handler) to a complete system replacement. Manufacturers have made the decision even harder by reintroducing R22 refrigerant dry-shipped systems back to the market. Over the past few years, a consumer’s choice was just to which R410A system to fully upgrade. Now, sticking with an old R22 system is back on the table. For many consumers struggling in a down economy, this appears to be an attractive option. This is primarily because swapping out an R22 condensing unit or air handler (or compressor) has the lowest initial installed cost with the least amount of system down time. Hot weather combined with low discretionary savings put aside for emergencies often ends in a poor decision. With the soaring cost of R22 refrigerant, its impending removal from the market and the impact it presents to our environment, there is really only one good economic reason to consider the dry-charge swap out. The reasonable situation for such a decision is that you are low on funds and plan to move in the next year or two, leaving the system upgrade to the next homeowner.  However, home inspectors are getting much more HVAC savvy than they used to be and the chances that they will flag an old R22 system as a part of an inspection report are reasonably high.

We have always advised against sticking with an R22 system under any other conditions. Of course when discretionary income recedes so does our overall concern for the environment, so appealing to consumer’s economic IQ becomes much more important. The next decision one faces is whether or not to install a standard 13 SEER R410A system or push up to a higher SEER level for energy savings and utility rebate incentives. Consumers often ask a contractor how much they will save in energy cost between a 13 and 16 SEER system. When getting multiple replacement quotes, they will also get multiple answers to this question. The only real answer to the question is, “it depends”. It depends upon A) your local utility kWh rate, B) your personal usage (i.e., thermostat settings, setback, area of the country, hours of usage), C) future system maintenance and filter replacement and D) the quality of your existing duct design and airflow.

Most consumers want someone or something to help them make this decision because it is an important investment, hence the search for a good investment calculator that lays out the true economic difference between the two choices. Many manufacturers have SEER calculators that try to help consumers, but they are all too simplistic because they use default values for utility rates and individual usage. This can make the ultimate savings calculation unrealisticly high or low.  One of the most comprehensive SEER Savings Calculators is available free in spreadsheet format from the Energy Star web site (Click Here to download). This calculator allows you to use defaults by area or cities throughout the United States, but it also allows you to drop the true values of your local utility rates in the spreadsheet along with maintenance, operating and life cycle costs. It factors in the cost difference between systems (which should include utility incentives), including the effect of programmable thermostats, if chosen. Utilizing such a tool can help consumers to make an educated decision as opposed to an educated guess, as long as all of the correct data is plugged in.  “Garbage in, garbage out” as they say in the computer science field. Consumers should make sure that they verify the actual SEER rating of the condensing unit and coil combination by asking their contractor for the AHRI rating certificate or checking the performance rating in the AHRI Interactive Certification Directory.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

Maryland is First State to Recognize Geothermal as Renewable Energy

The Maryland legislature has passed a bill accepting geothermal heat pumps as eligible for state provided Renewable Energy Tax Credits. This sounds like a no-brainer, since the federal government has already waved the renewable tax credit wand over geothermal heat pumps with a 30% federal tax credit, but Maryland has finally become the first state to give geothermal heat pumps the same status as solar power. New York state provides a myriad of statewide incentives for the solar industry, but our legislature has not done the same for geothermal heat pumps. Currently, NYSERDA only provides geothermal heat pumps residential rebates for LEED certified homes. Commercially, NYSERDA offers a 10% tax credit for geothermal systems.  In contrast, solar photovoltaics receive up to $10,500 in rebates residentially and $75,000 commercially from the state, on top of LIPA utility rebates of up to $17,500 and $65,000 respectively.  LIPA offers a paltry $1000 per unit rebate on geothermal heat pumps via its Cool Homes program. Similar incentives are offered for Solar Thermal and Wind Energy.

Why state legislatures have not embraced geothermal heat pumps the way they have for Solar and Wind technologies is anyone’s guess, but much of this usually boils down to a lobbying effort. With Maryland making the first move, a precedent has been set and a door opened. Nationally, the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) was formed to represent the interests of the geothermal industry. However, statewide and locally there are no chapters of GEO and no real associations in New York.  One of the first local geothermal associations is currently being formed as the Long Island Geothermal Association (LIGA) in an effort to obtain similar legislation in New York State and to promote geothermal while consolidating local codes and standards. LIGA will also become a resource for system design standards, technical training and installation guidelines for its membership. For those interested in additional information, contact John DeLillo, Jr.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

64 Year Old Life Magazine Article Touts Geothermal Heat Pump

The “Miracula”. First production closed loop geothermal heat pump.

When most people think of geothermal heat pumps, they think new technology. The positive connotation of new technology is advancement, but many link new technologies to risk and technical bugs. Such is not the case with geothermal heat pumps because they have been in existence since Lord Kelvin developed the concept in 1852.  Robert C. Webber put the concept into practical use in the 1940s by inventing the first direct exchange ground source heat pump for his home. The first successful commercial geothermal project was installed in the Commonwealth Building (Portland, Oregon) in 1946. This was also the first fully air conditioned commercial office building.

In this 1948 magazine article, Life Magazine profiled the General Engineering and Manufacturing Company’s “Miracula” closed loop geothermal heat pump for cooling and heating. 64 years ago, the prediction was made that   “as the efficiency of getting the heat from the earth improves, it is almost certain that eventually the heat pump will be able to compete successfully with conventional heaters in most localities.”  Today, a 30% Federal Tax Credit and local incentives have made that statement a reality, at least until 2016. The main impediments to geothermal heat pumps becoming a dominant market mainstay are really only the local cost of drilling and the initial capital expense associated with installation. Should the Federal incentives move from tax credit based to rebate based, geothermal growth would be astronomical.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!