January 7, 2022

Cold Comfort: Why Current Net Zero Plans For Biz Cooling Systems Are Off Target

Written by

Tom Ascough

Commercial landlords are being advised that cooling systems must be used less, or not at all, to meet future emissions targets – with occupants expected to live with the discomfort. However, new cooling management solutions offer a more intelligent approach to the issue.

We all know and accept the problem: The building sector accounts for 30% of global energy consumption with heating systems responsible for 45% of building emissions. To meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, property companies – and in turn, their tenants – must significantly curb emissions by 2030 before hitting net zero come 2050.

To achieve such ambitious targets, consultants are telling their property clients that they should reduce existing centralised air/water cooling system usage to hit the 2030 target – and remove centralised cooling systems entirely to attain net zero by 2050. This advice is based on the premise that buildings’ large centralised cooling plants use too much energy under the part-load conditions needed for most of the year. To meet 2050’s target, it is being increasingly recommended that no central cooling system should be incorporated into any future commercial building designs whatsoever.


Less CO2, more brain drain: What a lack of cooling really means for business

However, if such recommendations are adopted across the sector, employees will soon find themselves working in buildings with uncomfortable temperatures. For instance, some consultants believe it is possible to have indoor air temperatures of 24°C for much of the year with no cooling system in place. During summer though, these buildings are likely to overheat with staff experiencing temperatures over 26°C while at work.

That’s too hot for most people. It also introduces health and safety issues as well as the risk of previously sympathetic employees leaving because they won’t accept working in such conditions. Instead, they will likely join a company that keeps its working environments at an acceptable temperature.

Further complicating the issue are certain landlords shifting the comfort issue onto tenants, advising them to introduce their own individual cooling solutions into a building if they want one. This is a hugely inefficient strategy; first, a building with several tenants who install their own cooling systems will likely consume more energy than if the building had been designed with a central cooling system.

Second, such retrofits will inevitably be disruptive to the tenants as they compete for limited service route space and risk accidentally compromising one another’s equipment. Third, adopting such a strategy would likely involve the rollout of less integrated variable refrigerant systems, which require more roof space that may not be available.


A cool(ing) idea: Use modern standards combined with innovative solutions

Established techniques for lowering energy use while delivering comfort are already being deployed by responsible landlords. These include ensuring buildings are fully insulated, rendered ‘airtight’, and monitored by sensors, plus managed via tailored algorithm and digital dashboards. If implemented correctly, this pragmatic approach ensures the running of central cooling systems is generally optimised.

However, this may not be enough to meet the targets for 2030 and 2050, or ensure employee loyalty and bottom lines aren’t put at risk. Instead, property companies should consider innovative solutions for delivering further significant energy consumption savings.

For instance, the Symphony Cycle, a patented offering from Symphony Energy, identifies an existing blind spot in current cooling and heating system use; the untapped potential of using coolers as heaters. In principle, that might sound counterintuitive but in practice, the process is actually simple:

  • Outside of summer conditions, the Symphony Cycle process uses the normally off-cooling coils to act as heaters of external air and coolers of the cooling water.
  • The cooling coils in effect use waste heat to simultaneously deliver free usable heat and cooling water.
  • It piggybacks a process that is already taking place and therefore uses zero or near-zero input energy.

It means that while Symphony Cycle provides free comfort cooling, it can simultaneously provide free heat to help pre-heat the cooler external air so it is delivered into the building at a suitable supply temperature. Critically, Symphony Cycle doesn’t require retrofitting or additional equipment as it works with any existing air/water system.

A successful outcome can be achieved by simply adding a selection of tailored algorithms to the existing BMS system. In some instances, performance can be enhanced even further with minor, inexpensive changes to the cooling system itself. Data shows that adopting the Symphony Cycle saves an estimated 10% on total building heating energy and 10% on total building HVAC electricity energy.

Such innovations are crucial to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 2050 net zero target – without leaving workforces toiling in unethical conditions that harm their productivity, health and safety. While the current trend is for such issues to be made the responsibility of tenants, this is one problem that requires all stakeholders to pull together and solve through transparent communication, intelligent design and innovative solutions.

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