WHEELER ON HVACR: HVAC Minimum Efficiencies - How High Can They Go?
Recently a representative of our industry (the current president of the Air-Conditioning Refrigeration Institute or ARI) spoke before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, explaining that any further legislation to require higher efficiency standards on residential and commercial appliances would not only hurt our industry but hinder “the development and use of energy-efficient technology.” Is that true?
Of course, no one likes government regulations, and it is to be expected that any industry, when faced with proposed federal sanctions, would vigorously oppose them - and the manufacturers in our industry are obviously no exception. So, I ask: Would we currently be manufacturing and selling 13-SEER minimum-efficiency equipment were it not for federal legislation? Since ARI vigorously opposed that too, I say that 10-SEER or even 6-SEER stuff would still be on the market and the primary focus of our sales! So, hasn’t federal legislation actually promoted “the development and use of energy-efficient technology?” I think so, and that’s what’s best for our country, our industry and consumers!
Then ask yourself: Did the higher cost of the current 13-SEER minimum-efficiency equipment (which started last year) significantly cut your sales volume or profitability? Look at the statistics! Despite all prophecies to the contrary, things seem to be going as usual. And even higher minimum efficiencies aren’t going to change that.
But, obviously there is some limit to how high the efficiencies can go, and how much extra cost consumers can stand. So where is this limit?
I took a hard look at one of the industry’s highest-efficiency air conditioners, Nordyne’s 23-SEER residential air conditioner, at the last ACCA convention in Orlando, FL, and I was shocked to see that it wasn’t all that different physically from its 13-SEER products. Yes, Nordyne charges a premium price for the 23-SEER product, but it also makes a nice profit on it. So, 23-SEER is obviously a reachable goal - but that comes close to the upper limit of HVAC capabilities. And I’m sure that 98-AFUE limits on fuel furnaces won’t be improved on much either.
Yet, there are still some improvements on HVAC systems that can be made to reduce condenser sizes and further increase operating efficiencies. For example, at the industry exposition York showed an improved condenser coil design that greatly reduced its size. And although the new technology it employed is initially more expensive to produce, it won’t be once it starts into mass production.
Also, part of Nordyne’s technology that enhanced its product’s higher efficiency is the implementation of an improved rotary compressor - which is pretty simple technology.
But greater efficiencies on whole-house or whole-commercial-building air-conditioning technology is also possible if we just look at how such structures are heated and cooled in other countries. Conditioning each room individually just as it is needed (zoning) is much more energy efficient than randomly conditioning a whole building. Much more than system efficiencies need to be considered, and just raising SEER or AFUE numbers is only a small part of the equation.
So, while I’m no fan of government legislation, I say that if our industry continues to prove unwilling to set and enforce its own higher minimum-efficiency standards, then someone must do it for us. And if we are the roadblock to improved technology and reduced energy consumption, shame on us!