Q&A: Green building expert Peter Agneborn

Improving energy efficiency is a key part of green building. According to Peter Agneborn, Global Business Unit Director, HVAC & Commercial Building Services at Xylem, green building in the future will focus on increasing the energy efficiency of entire systems and not just individual components.

What has been driving changes in green building?

There are several different drivers that contribute to the growth of the green building sector. Energy efficiency legislation is one of the primary drivers, though it depends where you are in the world. Companies that operate and maintain commercial buildings – and therefore manage heating or cooling systems – are also looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and lower operational costs. Homeowners want to keep energy bills low as well. Whether it is a hotel chain, factory, or household, there are many ways to increase efficiency and ultimately lower energy costs – all of which relate to the demand for green buildings.

How does Xylem work with green buildings?

Xylem has been working with green buildings for several years. About 10 percent of the world’s electricity consumption comes from pumps, many of which are hidden inside buildings. Pumps are the heart of a building, so when we can lower the energy consumption of a pump by up to 70 percent, we can bring several environmental and operational benefits to users, investors and society. We work with consultants and contractors, educating them about industry legislation and helping them calculate their return on investment with energy-efficient pumps. When we help customers make these updates, we do an inventory assessment of the original system and pumps installed and present a proposal of how it can be improved.

How is legislation developing in different parts of the world?

The US has been leading many green building changes, particularly when it comes to green certifications for construction. Xylem has been active in the US on several technical boards, including the Hydraulic Institute, where we advocate for green buildings and work to influence efficiency legislation. It’s important to be involved in shaping the legislation that impacts us so that we can effectively meet or exceed it. If too many companies cannot comply and remain solvent, it can threaten our industry, our competitiveness and affordability for our customers.

Europe is for the moment focusing more on making individual products that go into buildings more energy efficient, with initiatives such as the European Ecodesign directive. We have been updating our product lines to stay ahead of, or exceed, this Minimum Efficiency Index (MEI) that has been set by the directive. China is in the process of developing green building legislation, while Singapore is already a green city, with efficiency demands higher than Europe or America.

What are some of the challenges with green building today?

Often construction companies will focus on problems like windows and insulation first, and look at the entire system last. Fixing windows and insulation could bring a fast return on investment, but once you’ve take care of them, you may have comfort problems because the building is too hot, or health problems because the building is too tight. Instead, companies should examine the entire system, looking at what is bringing heat or energy into or out of the building, and design everything in parallel.

Another issue we’re seeing is that products are being sized incorrectly to compensate for maximum load. This is a common problem in the US. When products are incorrectly sized, they are often sized larger than needed to ensure that there is enough capacity to meet major system demands. An example of this is a hotel that can experience most guests using the shower during the morning hours. However, when a pump is sized for more capacity than will likely ever be needed, it can put undue stress on the system and be highly inefficient – costing money and causing potential issues down the road.

What changes can be expected with pumping technology?

Pumping technology is becoming smarter and moving toward greater efficiency. We’ve redesigned many of our product lines globally, to meet and/or exceed efficiency standards – both current and expected. We’ve created products that have Efficiency Islands, a proprietary efficiency profile that enables users to maintain significantly higher levels of efficiency over a much wider range of operating conditions. Many of our products use electronically commutated permanent magnet motors for increased efficiency. Focusing on expanding our variable speed drive range is another key way we’re making systems more efficient for our customers.

We’re also investing in pump intelligence, evidenced by the recent (2014) launch of the ecocirc XL large wet rotor circulator pump. The ecocirc XL has an intuitive interface that enables users to customize settings for their specific applications, and has additional settings where historical pump data can be obtained through an optional Wi-Fi module. Advanced control options, including Modbus or BACnet access, provide dynamic system management.

Our variable frequency drives also save energy, since instead of operating at a fixed speed all the time, their speed matches the specific pumping demands at any given time.

How will green building change in the coming years?

Green building has always been about the system overall rather than single components, and that will continue to be true in the future as more building systems become interconnected. To make a building truly green, components need to be able to talk to each other and be automated so that adjustments can be made instantly to drive maximum efficiency and reliability. The variable frequency drives on our pumps already have much of this functionality but we’re still working toward greater interconnectivity across systems.

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