Scope for greater energy use of natural refrigerant technologies with utility energy efficiency programmes

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ATMOsphere America 2014, organised in San Francisco from 18-19 June, gathered experts in the field of natural refrigerant heating and cooling who gathered to discuss how to accelerate the market uptake of these climate friendly technoloiges. In an ATMOsphere first, the programme featured a Session dedicated to Energy Providers, who shared with participants their unique perspectives on how natural refrigerant technologies can help utilities ensure that residential, commercial and industrial consumers use electricity as efficiently as possible

Importance of natural refrigerant technologies to energy providers

Ammi Amarnath, Senior Program Manager of the Energy Efficiency & Demand Response, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) was first to speak in the Energy Provider Session. Amarnath provided an overview of EPRI, a breakdown of energy use in the residential and commercial sectors and explained that utilities should care about natural refrigerants because HVAC&R is an important segment in terms of energy use, and because emerging technology using natural working fluids can help to increase efficiency, level loads, and decrease environmental impact. Within this context, Amarnath discussed the implications of the US EPA Clean Power Plan, released June 2, 2014. The Plan's implementation will be managed by states, meaning they have flexibility to choose the most cost-effective approach to encourage use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency.

Utility savings thanks to ammonia refriegration systems

Next to speak was Paul Delaney, Senior Engineer, Southern California Edison (SCE) who discussed evolving energy trends, which have shifted over the years to focus on improving energy efficiency. This has become particularly in important in California, which since 2008 has had a long-term energy efficiency plan, the “Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan”, most recently updated in 2011. The plan has four goals, one of which is “New HVAC Technologies & System Diagnostics.”

According to Delaney, there are various opportunities for energy efficiency improvements in different sectors. For example, in the residential AC sector current HVAC maintenance practices can be dramatically improved. Nearly half of the 5 million residential ACs in Caliornia, which represent 11% of electricity demand, are at least 10 years old, and 60% do not receive regular maintenance.

In the commercial sector, there are lessons to be learned from innovative projects like the Carpinteria Albertson's zero-net energy supermarket, which features energy efficient lighting, natural ventilation and a natural refrigerant NH3/CO2 refrigeration system. Thanks to the installation, the store is saving about $100,000 (€73,000) every year, and its energy consumption has been reduced by 30%. Currently, SCE is working with EPRI to identify new technologies in refrigeration, focusing on natural refrigerants.

Lastly, in the industrial refrigeration sector, Delaney talked about the opportunities to improve the efficiency of refrigerated warehouses space. California relies heavily on refrigerated space with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 80°F (4.4°C to – 62°C). He said that between 15-25% savings are possible using ammonia as opposed to HFC systems. NXTCOLDTM Technology can also yield significant savings.

Natural refrigerant heat pumps as energy efficiceny measures

Also talking about California's energy efficiency goals was Jack Callahan, Senior Research Advisor, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a wholesaler that sells to power utilities. In his presentation he discussed the role heat pumps can play as an energy efficiency measure in the Pacific Northwest, where there is a large installed base of electric resistance space and water heating. Although the BPA does no have any direct mandate to influence heat pump refrigerant choice, their mandate to incentivise energy efficiency does have an influence on refrigerant selection.

Heat pumps as efficiency measures were also the focus of Keith Forsman, Customer Energy Services - Product Manager, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), whose mission is to provide, safe, reliable and cost effective energy to the 15 mission residents of Northern and Central California. For PG&E, it is cheaper to save energy than it is to produce more. To this end the company has a variety of programmes that support energy efficiency, covering: energy analysis tools and rate options, emerging technology, new construction, retrofits, retrocomissioning, codes and standards and workforce education and training.