Too Many Economizers Aren’t Working and What We’re Going To Do About It



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MARCH 2013

Industry Input Sought by Utilities for Residential Upstream Programs

Members of the WHPA who are interested in California Residential Upstream programs are invited to participate in a short-term Working Group.

This is an excellent opportunity for your voice to be heard directly by California Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) and the Energy Division of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) as the 2012-2014 programs are being defined. For more information, click here.

Economizer Experts Gather To Solve the Problem

According to a technical report funded by the CEC1, a staggering 64% of rooftop air conditioner economizers in California are not working.  Yet this often-neglected HVAC component can yield huge benefits if properly installed and maintained.

A recent informal study2 by the Western Cooling Efficiency Center (WCEC) showed that little, if any, improvement has been made in the condition of packaged rooftop economizers since the 2003 CEC report. It seems people have forgotten that economizers were invented to reduce energy consumption, and therefore save money on energy costs.

What can we do about it?

The Western HVAC Performance Alliance (WHPA) Executive Committee realized that significant effort was required to tackle a problem of this magnitude. The Summit for the Advancement of Functional Economizers (SAFE) was launched to accomplish these and other goals:

  • Quantify the energy savings potential of multiple advanced economizer strategies;
  • Gain industry, utility and state agency agreement regarding around which economizer strategies were most advantageous for each California climate zone;
  • Support reevaluation of economizer workpapers being relied upon in utility programs and the current economizer deemed savings within the California Database of Energy Efficient Resources (DEER);
  • Determine whether DEER could be improved by updating it with multiple and advanced economizer strategies;
  • Verify and evaluate the precision and reliability of new digital electronic sensors (temperature, enthalpy and CO2);
  • Review other features of newly available digital economizer control modules including “self-commissioning” and onboard fault detection and diagnostics (FDD);
  • Validate the accuracy of the Braun/Brandemeuhl Economizer Savings Estimator software tool;
  • Better understand how savings estimates impact buying and selling of economizer repairs and upgrades.

As one step in the ramp up to the SAFE, which will take place later this year, twenty-three industry veterans attended a preliminary meeting held during the ASHRAE Winter Meeting in Dallas, Texas on January 27. United by a common goal, attendees included engineers from the California investor owned utilities, program evaluators, technical consultants to the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission, leading researchers, and both HVAC and controls manufacturers. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the barriers and challenges that would be faced in efforts to improving economizer system performance and to plan the SAFE meeting to be held in California in early spring. A summary of the meeting can be found by clicking here.

The Dallas meeting involved animated discussions around all the issues and challenges ahead. There was general consensus that The SAFE project was an important initiative that required broad collaboration in order to tackle a multifaceted and complex area of significant energy waste. Key attendees pledged their support for the spring Summit. Among the participants was Warren Lupson, WHPA Executive Committee member and Director of Education for AHRI, which provided the meeting room for the Dallas meeting. "In light of how much energy and money they save, the large percentage of nonfunctional economizers remains mind boggling," Mr. Lupson stated. “It was gratifying to see so many of the country's top economizer experts gathered in one place to launch this nationwide effort that could well turn the tide. We gained a lot of ground and AHRI is looking forward to this critically important summit."

1a. Summary Article (11 pages): 
Small Commercial Rooftops: Field Problems, Solutions and the Role of Manufacturers. (2003). 
1b. Complete Report (316 pages): 
Small HVAC Problems and Potential Savings Reports. (2003). 
2. Email 
Kristin Heinemeier, Ph.D. for more information.


Subcommittee Presents Plan to Improve Residential Quality Installation in CA

The WHPA's Residential Quality Installation (RQI) Subcommittee continues its significant work. Chaired by Jeff Henning (Mechanical Systems Design & Consulting), the subcommittee has focused its efforts on determining the significant barriers to RQI becoming standard practice in keeping with the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. California. The result is a white paper that contains the RQI subcommittee’s perspective on the history of RQI, issues to be addressed, and recommended actions. 

The RQI Subcommittee used their collective experience to identify four categories of barriers to RQI being broadly adopted, as follows:

  1. program implementation barriers related to how savings are calculated
  2. program participation barriers including contractors’ training expenses
  3. code inconsistencies between Title 24 and national RQI standards
  4. verification barriers in the evaluation and enforcement by compliance-verification enforcement officials

While the first step was to identify barriers to quality residential installation, the greater impact comes from providing solutions to rectify the issues. The subcommittee made the following recommendations:

  1. improve quality installation education in design training, systems commissioning training, and verifier training
  2. increase contractor mentoring and support by improving contractors’ access to support infrastructure, such as equipment capacity calculators 
  3. make code enforcement more effective by putting in place comprehensive system commissioning training and installation verifier training
  4. improve codes and standards and better align them with industry standards by addressing code inconsistencies and gaps between Title 24’s requirements and ACCA quality installation standards.

Subcommittee Chair Jeff Henning presented a summary of the initial report to the WHPA Executive Council, who made very minor recommended revisions and returned it for consideration. The subcommittee consequently met in January, reviewed the recommendations, and approved them. While the white paper is not public yet, information about the paper is available in the RQI Subcommittee minutes.

The development and finalization of this white paper is a huge step forward towards the goal of establishing a baseline condition for existing residential HVAC systems and contractor installation practices. The RQI Subcommittee’s efforts in this project epitomize the effectiveness of the Performance Alliance’s structure—industry stakeholders working together to resolve important issues.


Executive Committee Meets in Dallas

The WHPA Executive Committee (EC) met on January 29th for three and a half hours in Dallas for a strategic planning session about the WHPA, its accomplishments, and future goals and plans. Ten of the 12 EC members were present in person or by proxy. The remaining two members attended by phone.

The Dallas venue was selected because of its timing with AHR Expo, which was underway at the same time.

The following WHPA committees and subcommittees were cited as contributing to some of the key accomplishments of the WHPA in the past two years:

The EC discussed the organizational procedures of the WHPA. While there have been a number of achievements since its inception, the WHPA’s leaders continuously analyze its structure to maximize effectiveness in supporting the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan’s Four Goals.

There was collective support for the unique contributions of the WHPA as a very broad and engaged industry stakeholder organization. The EC members expressed their desire to continue expanding the relevance of the WHPA as the “go-to” organization for state agencies and IOUs seeking industry and other stakeholder input and review.

About the WHPA
The Western HVAC Performance Alliance was established in 2009. More than 162 organizations in 25 stakeholder categories are working together to help transform from the residential and small commercial HVAC industry to ensure that technology, equipment, installation and maintenance are of the highest quality to promote energy efficiency and peak load reduction. In this role the WHPA provides input to California Investor-Owned Utilities.
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