VRF Air Source Heat Pumps Set to Capitalize on Geothermal’s Loss

Heat Pump Slaes Volume By Country By 2020

Heat Pump Sales Volume By Country By 2020

As we have written previously, the Federal Renewable Energy Tax Credit for geothermal HVAC systems has sunset (as of 12/31/16). The 30% Federal Tax Credit for residential and 10% for commercial systems is now part of history, unless a Republican Congress and Executive branch happens to see the green light, which is obviously doubtful. In essence, this makes geothermal HVAC installations no longer economically viable for short term life cycle costs versus fossil fuels. Consumers have short memories and tend to be cost driven rather than conscience driven. It is therefor a likelihood that the US geothermal market will take a nosedive in the first quarter of 2017. The question is, what form of HVAC will benefit from this geothermal market downturn? Locally, The New York/Long Island Metropolitan market is still primarily oil based and there are many suburban areas with no access to natural gas. So what is the next best alternative for someone who no longer wants a buried oil tank acting as an environmental Sword of Damocles?

Variable Refrigerant heat pumps and ductless heat pumps are poised as the next best alternative to geothermal to replace fossil fuel heating systems. Although they do not qualify for federal incentives, they do qualify for rebate programs available from NYSERDA, Con-Edison and PSEG. They have been proven to provide consistent heating down to sub-zero temperatures. They have also proven to be one of the most maintenance free of all available alternatives. Consumers want a reliable, low cost heating and air conditioning system. Although the initial installation cost of these systems is higher than a standard cooling only system, the gap is closing between VRF and combined forced-air heating and cooling systems.
The only thing that could derail market penetration of VRF at this point is if a new government decided to significantly increase tariffs on imported HVAC equipment. The vast majority of VRF products are still manufactured in foreign markets (primarily Asia), including those that are name-branded by most American manufacturers. Although there are several VRF plants in the US, most of them are assembly lines for primary components that are manufactured elsewhere. It is only the finished product that rolls off the line here. So, until new trade agreements are put in place or new tariffs added, it is a good bet that VRF heat pump market share will continue to grow, especially in the wake of the fall-off of ground source heat pump demand.

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

Major Natural Gas Expansion Underway in New York Metro Region

There will be a significant increase in the volume of natural gas being brought to the New York Metro region as a result of multiple pipeline expansion projects from the Marcellus shale region. Several distribution pipelines will be put into service this winter.  According to the US Energy Information Administration, the pipelines will bring “3.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of additional capacity to New York/New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic markets”. In addition to this, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted permission to Spectra Energy to put into service a new pipeline that has been run to Manhattan from New Jersey to bring additional natural gas from Marcellus to the city. The expansion will provide enough energy for Con Edison to heat about 2 million additional homes.

National Grid also appears to be expanding its gas distribution on Long Island. For the fiscal year 2013, which ended March 31, the utility added 8,815 new commercial and residential customers. Because of the lack of natural gas main expansion on Long Island, only about 43 percent of Long Island businesses and residents use natural gas as a primary fuel. As demand continues to grow, the utility has undertaken an $83 million expansion project that will install 1.6 miles of new pipeline under the Rockaway Inlet, connecting parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island to existing natural gas lines. “We’re making large infrastructure investments,” said Kenneth Daly, president of National Grid New York. “You have to build out the network, which we’re doing.”

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!

Conversion from Fuel Oil to Natural Gas Even Sweeter in 2013

Spot Market Prices 2013In our annual review of home heating fuels on Long Island, nothing has changed except for the widened gap between fuel oil and Natural gas prices. Today, “Prices for crude oil and natural gas moved in opposite directions after the U.S. government issued weekly supply reports for both fuels. Benchmark oil for October delivery gained 93 cents, or 1.1 percent, to close at $108.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. But natural gas futures fell 10.5 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $3.575 per 1,000 cubic feet.” Read more here

The impact that shale hydraulic fracturing has had on the suppression and reduction of natural gas prices is phenomenal. According to an article this week in USA Today, “Now, the United States produces more natural gas than it can use. As a result, prices have plummeted… When supply eclipses demand, the only way to increase prices is to reduce the supply or increase demand. Reducing the supply is not an easy proposition for natural gas producers — their contracts on wells often require them to keep drilling in order to maintain the lease. That is why natural gas producers, like Exxon Mobil have pushed the Department of Energy to speed up its approval of applications to export natural gas.

In fact, while home heating oil and gasoline prices continue to escalate, the natural gas glut continues to suppress natural seasonal price spikes. The wellhead price of natural gas is down to less than $4 per thousand cubic feet. This is why it is an extremely good time for those who can convert to natural gas from oil to do so now.  According to NYSERDA, the current price of natural gas in New York State is $1.56 per Therm (or 100 CCF). There are 100,000 BTUs per Therm of natural gas.  Therefore, if you were to price natural gas versus no. 2 fuel oil by the BTU content of a gallon of oil (138,000 BTUs) the current rates would be $4.07 for a gallon of oil and $2.17 for a “gallon” of natural gas with the same heating capacity. Here in the northeast, a consumer can easily burn 1000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil in a heating season, when equated to about 1000 CCF of natural gas for the same BTU output at $4.07 per gallon of oil and $2.17 per Therm, this equates to a $1900 savings in just one heating season. Based upon a 5 year Return On Investment payback, even a $9500.00 oil to gas conversion would put you ahead of the game.

For more information on heating fuels comparisons, including propane and geothermal, see our previous article here.

Try the following calculators for your own comparison:   ConEd Oil to Gas Heat Conversion Calculator     PSE&G Residential Oil to Gas Spreadsheet Calculator

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!

HVAC Design in the Wake of Certain Climate Change

Back in February we discussed Sensible Rebuilding and HVAC Installation with Future Flooding in Mind. According to this New York Times article, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel of renowned international scientists, has determined that because of human activity causing global climate change, it is conceivable that we will have a 3 foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century along with a 5 degrees average temperature increase over land (and possibly 10 degrees at the poles).  We can argue among ourselves regarding the merit of scientific claims of global warming, but it has become a generally accepted fact to the majority. How then do we prepare our environment and design our spaces for such change?

Architects, engineers, designers, builders and contractors are advised to study FEMA’s new Advisory Base Flood Elevation designations. These maps are being developed with flood hazard data accumulated from Sandy. An interactive map can be accessed by using FEMA’s BFE Map Lookup Tool.  ABFEs (Advisory Base Flood Elevation) can help communities and property owners make informed decisions about rebuilding their homes and businesses to reduce their vulnerability to flooding. They provide an indication of how flood elevations and risk zones are likely to change in the near future. For coastal building in flood zones, National Flood Insurance Program building requirements are being raised from 4 feet to a minimum of 8 feet above grade and a recommendation of 6 feet above BFE.

As previously discussed, it will be imperative for all coastal structures to install utilities and HVAC systems and ductwork above the Designated Flood Elevation (DFE). FEMA’s projects that “with most outdoor HVAC equipment, the main issues presented by floodwaters are inundation, velocity flow, and debris impact. The control and power circuits and mechanical parts in HVAC equipment, even when they are designed for outdoor installation, are not designed to withstand inundation by floodwater. They are also not designed to withstand the dynamic forces of high velocity flow and debris impact. During inundation, the electric and electronic control and power units would likely short-circuit, and the mechanical equipment would fail to operate and may be torn away. Most of the metal components would eventually corrode and deteriorate, especially in areas inundated by floodwaters containing salt. High velocity flow in either riverine or coastal areas can dislodge equipment from their stands and separate connecting pipes, hoses, and power lines.” Basically, the recommendation is to elevate all equipment and ductwork above the DFE and to constrain it to prevent movement.

So, going forward,  what will be the effect of climate change on outside air design temperature for air conditioning load calculations?  Typically, ASHRAE reviews these every 10 to 15 years or so, but rapid climate change may require more timely analysis. Hopefully, increased efficiency standards and envelope insulation standards will act as progressive counteractions and prevent cooling loads from creeping up due to incrementally higher outdoor dry bulb temperatures.

Clearly, climate change is having an extraordinary effect on the way we design and build. Unfortunately, this will also inevitably add additional cost and bureaucracy to the construction development process if we cannot stem the tide of environmental change.

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!

Yes, It Is Summer in the City and It Is Hotter – The Heat Island Effect

This image captured over New York City on October 2, 1999, is a false color composite combining surface temperature and vegetation abundance information. Red indicates surface temperature, green indicates vegetation abundance, and blue indicates visible brightness. Red and pink areas are characterized by higher surface temperatures and lower vegetation abundances. Green and yellow areas are characterized by higher vegetation abundances and lower surface temperatures. Blue and black areas have lower surface temperatures and little or no vegetation. (Image courtesy of Chris Small, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)

Yes, it is hotter in the city, especially at night. Why is this? It’s called the Urban Heat Island Effect and it means that urban areas heat up at more than twice the rate as rural and suburban areas. The high density of population, traffic, concrete, tarmac and carbon dioxide add up to an increased heat rate and a radiant capture effect. At night, this captured heat is radiated back from these surfaces as the earth attempts to cool down and can sometimes lead to a more than 20 degree difference between cities and suburban/rural areas. I know that it will usually be at least 10 degrees cooler at my north shore Long Island home than it will be in Manhattan only 20 miles to the west. This is also partially the reason why the New York City ASHRAE cooling design temperature is 96 degrees while the Long Island design temperature is only 89 degrees. The Heat Island Effect (HIE)  is nothing new, the EPA has been studying it for years. However, the build up of greenhouse gases as the result of global warming and the reverse migration back to cities has accelerated the effect and increased the ratio differential between the city and the ‘burbs. Just last year, National Public Radio spotlighted the HIE in this story (see http://www.npr.org/2012/09/04/160393303/as-temps-rise-cities-combat-heat-island-effect). Of course, every cloud has it’s silver lining and the one positive effect of the HIE is that trees and flora in urban areas actually get a growth benefit because of increased photosynthesis due to the warmer evenings and increased carbon dioxide. In fact, a Cornell study shows that a red oak tree grows eight times faster in Central Park due to the HIE! (See http://inhabitat.com/nyc/study-shows-red-oaks-grow-8-times-faster-in-central-park-due-to-urban-heat-island-effect/cornell-study-of-urban-tree-growth-1/). Even NASA has been studying the effect of HIE from satellite imagery. So what’s the answer to this dilemma? Well, it certainly isn’t to increase the capacity of your air conditioning unit if you live in the city because that will exacerbate the problem. The real answer is to plant more trees. Trees and other vegetation help alleviate the urban heat island effect by providing shade, intercepting solar energy, cooling the air, and reducing air pollution. New York City and all urban areas need more green space and less building in the balance and that is what some municipalities are having the courage to recognize. Dale Quattrochi, a senior research scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, studied the urban heat island effect in Atlanta. Quattrochi recognized that “when trees absorb sunlight, they don’t heat up like urban materials do. In fact, trees transform solar energy into cool air through a process called evapotranspiration. Trees transpire, or release, water through pores in their leaves, and sunlight helps evaporate this water from the leaf surface. In other words, trees “sweat” to cool off, just like people do. Trees also improve air quality by absorbing air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. But not just any tree will do. Trees like oak and sycamore emit higher amounts of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs). BVOCs are naturally occurring pollutants that contribute to the development of ground-level ozone. Planting trees such as maple and elm, which are low BVOC emitters, can improve a city’s air quality more effectively than high BVOC emitting trees.” Unfortunately, New York City and Long Island lost tens of thousands of trees during Hurricane Sandy and this will only help to increase the HIE and the heat differential.

So, to escape the summer heat in the city, head to the park or the country or, more importantly,  join your urban green space advocacy group and plant oak trees!

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!

New York State Poised to Make Geothermal Heat Pumps Tax Exempt

Closed -LoopPress release from the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization (LI-Geo.org):

The New York State Senate and Assembly have proposed new legislation related to geothermal heating and cooling installations.

On January 9, 2013, New York State Senator Maziarz introduced a bill to amend the tax law to exempt both sellers and purchasers of geothermal systems from sales and use taxes for materials.

The same day, New York State Assembly Member Jaffee introduced an identical bill to the Assembly.

This legislation will make geothermal heating and cooling systems more affordable and thus more economically attractive to all NYers. Please write to your NYS representatives to show your support for these bills.

The proposed bills are to amend the tax law to exempt both sellers and purchasers of geothermal systems from sales and use taxes for materials. (Sales and use taxes for the labor involved in capital improvements, such as these installations, are already exempt.). This is similar to the sales and use tax exemption that has aided the solar PV industry in New York State to prosper.

This change in the law will help the in-state geothermal industry—geothermal engineers, installers, designers, service providers, equipment distributors and manufacturers—be both more competitively priced and profitable.

Please write or e-mail your Senator, asking him or her to support this bill. We have a sample letter prepared on our web site for you to sign. Please feel free to customize the letter. If you do not know who your senator is, you can click here to find him or her.

You can also leave a comment about the bill for the Senate at the bottom of the page.

Please also write or e-mail your Assembly Member, asking him or her to support this bill. We have a sample letter prepared on our web site for you to sign. Please feel free to customize the letter. If you do not know who your assembly member is, you can click here to find him or her.

The bills are available for reading at the following links:

Senate Bill S01343

Assembly Bill A01411

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!

WiFi Enabled Thermostat Wars Disrupt Complacency

SP32-20130207-121226The patent battle that has unfolded between Honeywell and it’s upstart competitor, Nest, is well documented, but it has also forced Honeywell to inovate instead of resting upon its current product offerings and leaving the competition to its legal legions. The Nest learning thermostat has become a tech media darling because of its simple design, ease of use and installation, and non-proprietary WiFi connectivity. Unlike Honeywell’s Redlink product line, the Nest thermostat does not require a proprietary router or gateway. It simply uses the already available WiFi network to connect to Nest servers. Previously, if one wanted a Honeywell wireless system with WiFi connectivity and control via the internet, they had to purchase and install the Redlink bundle including gateway, as well as wireless FocusPRO thermostat. Now Honeywell has developed their own WiFi thermostat from the FocusPRO line that can connect directly through your wireless internet router and be controlled via your PC, smartphone or tablet. According to Honeywell’s literature, the FocusPRO TH6320WF1005  ” installs just like standard FocusPRO models, so you’ll breeze through the familiar installation. After that, it’s just a simple matter of a few easy steps to set up the remote access for use with a computer, smartphone or tablet.1 All the homeowner needs is access to their home network, and a computer or device with access to mytotalconnectcomfort.com. The connection is quick and easy.”

The most surprising revelation is the pricing of the WiFi FocusPRO. It is currently on the market at less than half the cost of Nest ($249 at their site) at about $115. The big difference is how they are going to market. Honeywell has prominently printed on their installation instructions, “Must be installed by a trained, experienced technician” whereas Nest continues to market their easy installation to all do-it-yourself homeowners (or those willing to pay $119 for Concierge install).  Honeywell has priced their product in such a manner that the installed cost by a qualified technician at a one hour street rate would be competitive with the installed cost of a Nest learning thermostat with professional concierge installation through their site or affiliates ($368).*  However, Honeywell continues to hedge their bets by selling a touchscreen DIY model through big box stores (see RTH8580WF literature) for around $150.

Of course, this begs the question “are the two products comparable”?  Honeywell’s literature touts the following WiFi capabilities for owners via the internet:

  • View and change their HVAC system settings (Heat, Cool, Off, Auto, Fan, EM Heat)
  • View and set the temperature
  • Access multiple thermostats if the system is zoned
  • Access multiple locations if more than one system is connected
  • Receive temperature alerts via e-mail or app
  • Get automatic upgrades as new features are available
  • Schedule remotely via the web

What you will not currently get from the WiFi FocusPRO that the Nest Learning Thermostat offers are:

  • A learning mode that does not require programing and allows you to set your own temperatures and then creates an auto-schedule over time
  • Motion sensors that detect unoccupied situations to set back to “Auto-Away mode” for deviating schedules
  • Balanced operation for radiant floor heating
  • “Airwave” which continues to run in fan mode to utilize evaporator coil temperature for further dehumidification and energy savings
  • A web enabled “Energy Report” that allows you to track potential energy savings
  • Filter reminders

Although not tested head-to-head by the writer, it is assumed that energy savings may be higher with Nest because of the Auto-Away function that will alter from a preset schedule via built in motion sensors to create more setback opportunities. However, if you are only looking for web enabled remote control of your system and aren’t interested in other applications, then Honeywell may have struck a balance between cost and functionality. This might particularly appeal to second homeowners who just want to monitor a vacation home and get temperature alerts, landlords who want to monitor tenants and non-tech types who simply want to raise or lower the temperature before they get home or after they leave.

It may appear that a price war could brew in the future and that Nest may have to lower their retail point as economies of scale allow. Recently, Nest was available at Lowes for $198.  CNN/Money recently took Nest to task for its price point, (see video), because it claims the Nest hard material costs were only $69, but CNN neglected to include the soft cost of design, financing and hard cost of assembly labor and logistics. Nest might be better served by increasing their tech rich features by adding increased value via software features like home security monitoring through its motion sensing capabilities, which has been rumored by some for the future.  Honeywell, on the other hand, has always kept its eye on the profit motive and they may have bigger fish to fry as they pursue smart grid technology and demand side programs in their recent venture with Opower.  Honeywell may well be more concerned with the higher profit margins that can be gleaned in local utility demand side conservation programs than in the battle for the lower margin DIY and home automation markets. Only the future will tell.

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! 

*In full disclosure, we here at Air Ideal are Nest Concierge and Certified installers. We also sell and install Honeywell products.