Sharing Ideas

Eureka Roadshow Italy

On September 15, 2017, the Eureka Roadshow Italy, organised by EPEE and EVIA, with Centro Studi Galileo as its partner and CAREL and ZIEHL-ABEGG as sponsors, was held at the nh Laguna Palace Hotel in Mestre (Venice). The purpose of the event was to share the conclusions of Eureka 2016 (The Hague, 13/12/2016) with an audience of manufacturers, industry associations, consultants, designers and institutions.
The conference involved around 70 people over a busy morning, during which the main topics of the following sessions were presented:

  • Buildings: IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) and energy efficiency
  • Cold chain

Both sessions were moderated by Prof. Marco Carlo Masoero from the Department of Energy at the Turin Polytechnic, and featured an introduction by an expert in the field to stimulate discussion. These were the main topics that emerged during the two debates:

Buildings: IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) and energy efficiency

Roberta Savli, from the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA), highlighted the importance of healthy air inside buildings for the welfare of occupants and, in particular, to avoid or at least reduce the incidence of respiratory allergies in sensitive individuals. According to Dr. Savli, “respiratory illnesses cost European healthcare systems € 300 billion a year, and this is further aggravated by a loss of productivity of almost € 30 billion a year due to workplace absenteeism. They are also expected to soon become the third cause of death around the world.”

Indeed, the future revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will place the emphasis on air quality, stating more clearly than in the past that energy saving, while being the primary objective of the Directive, should not be achieved by reducing air quality below minimum acceptable levels.

Buildings account for about 40% of the total energy consumed in the EU and about 36% of all CO2 emissions (source: European Commission The EPBD aims to reduce the energy consumption of buildings with two objectives: reduce their contribution to environmental pollution and global warming; decrease the import of energy sources from abroad (the EU needs to import energy as it is not self-sufficient, therefore reducing imports helps meet the strategic goal of energy independence from non-EU countries). The current EPBD and associated legislation have contributed to a reduction in energy consumption for heating, both because they have stimulated the improvement of perimeter insulation and because they have led to the adoption of innovative system solutions (heat pumps, condensing boilers, solar thermal, etc.); at the same time, however, the best perimeter insulation will in coming years increase the need for ventilation and air-conditioning (i.e. space cooling). The future revision of the EPBD Directive will attempt to counterbalance this tendency to increase cooling consumption by means of so-called Technical Building Systems (TBS), which will need to guarantee indoor temperature-humidity conditions by minimising energy consumption through close monitoring.

Air change is one of the main factors contributing to building energy consumption, as outside air needs to be “conditioned” by the air handling units to reach the desired values; however this should not lead to a decrease in air change to values that reduce indoor air quality to unacceptable levels. This is why the future revision of the EPBD will place the emphasis on finding the right compromise between IAQ and energy saving.

It is clear that buildings will tend to become increasingly complex “machines”, as they will need to “function” (i.e. to ensure optimum ambient conditions for occupants and processes) in such a way as to always find the best balance between IAQ and minimum energy consumption. Building monitoring and control systems will continuously seek to find the best compromise and, as a result, will become an increasingly important and fundamental part of the TBS; of course, all other components in the TBS (AHU, fans, humidifiers, etc.) will need to be designed to be integrated into complex systems, where performance modulation and measurement of a large number of variables (temperature, humidity, CO2, VOC, etc.) will be of crucial importance.

Cold chain

Dr Silvia Minetto from the Padova office of the National Research Council explained the role of refrigeration in the cold chain, highlighting how regulations such as F-gas in Europe are requiring upgrades in the industry in order to use the most environmentally-friendly refrigerants.

The F-gas regulation 517/2014 in force since 1 January 2015 requires a phase-down in the use of HFC refrigerants, as these are responsible for global warming. The replacement refrigerants must have a low GWP (Global Warming Potential) and are both “natural” (CO2, ammonia, hydrocarbons) and new synthetic hydrofluoroolefin refrigerants, HFOs; unfortunately, few alternatives are 1:1 compatible with existing HFCs in the field.

The debate highlighted that a part of the refrigeration industry, as well as the AC business, is still adapting to these innovations, as they often involve upgrading the systems (different refrigerant, different lubricant, in some cases also different gaskets and components), without forgetting that many refrigeration engineers still need to receive adequate training; at the same time, however, the phase-down of HFCs will become even stricter in 2018 and 2021, and this is already being reflected in the shortage of traditional HFCs, resulting in spectacular price increases  (e.g. the cost of R-404A has increased by 180%-200% since 2014, essentially, but not only, because production is shifting to HFOs). In essence, there is a real risk that the HVAC/R sector will find itself in difficulty and will need to play catch-up, adapting systems with consequent costs that cannot be foreseen beforehand. Nonetheless, it must be remembered that the F-gas regulation allows for recycling, following purification, of the existing refrigerant in the same system it was removed from, or even in different systems, provided that it is completely reclaimed; however, this option entails high costs, the number of companies that can provide this service is limited and finally the F-gas regulation will no longer permit it, at least as far as most popular refrigerants - R-404A and R -507A - are concerned, starting 1 January 2030.

According to a recent European Commission study published on August 4, there are already alternatives regarding both refrigerant and systems that guarantee compliance with F-gas (transcritical CO2 systems, cascade systems, plug-in or semi-plug-in devices, such as water loops), yet action needs to be taken quickly to avoid costs and inconveniences that may also occur in the short term.

Aside from the aspects relating to the two topics debated, the conference also highlighted the following common issues:

The growing importance of the Internet of Things (IoT): the trend will be to have more and more devices (heat pumps, AHUs, refrigeration systems, etc.) connected to each other and to supervision systems so as to optimise operation of the installation as a whole.

The IoT will be an important part of the technical solution, with a more “holistic” approach to interaction between different products: these will need to be designed and operated not only taking into account their essential functions (heat, cool, guarantee a certain air flow, ...), but also all the constraints, limitations and effects that come from the “environment” they will be integrated into and whose characteristics cannot be ignored. In other words, each product will need to work to meet various constraints, both regarding its original functions and the environment in it will operate in, and therefore needs to be designed, constructed and operated in such a way as to guarantee simultaneous multiple constraints even beyond its own specific objectives. It is virtually certain that future products will be created taking into account all the “stimuli” deriving from the environment they are installed in. This is the holistic approach.

Operation of the devices, on the other hand, will need to seem easy to the end user (it must be intuitive, and even automatic, in the sense of anticipating and avoiding user intervention) and this will mean that complexity remains “hidden”, for the exclusive use of specialist technicians with new, broader knowledge. Continuous training of technicians to deal with a greater degree of complexity will become even more fundamental in HVAC/R (and is already)

  • EU laws and regulations will need to be harmonised and common, as they facilitate the design, construction and operation of devices compared to a situation in which they are different in different countries
  • Surveillance by the authorities to ensure that such laws and regulations are actually applied needs to be guaranteed in the field and not only on paper, to avoid distorting the market with non-compliant products

The conference highlighted that manufacturers can no longer ignore an increasing variety of aspects regarding system and product development. Eureka was devised to understand the various aspects that will over the next few decades define and influence the spaces we live in, and the systems, products and services that we use, with the focus on everything relating to heating, cooling and ventilation.

The first conference in December 2016 gave some insights for discussion in Mestre, and these will be further expanded and amplified at the next Eureka 2017 conference to be held on December 11-12 in Berlin.

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