Geothermal, Solar Technologies Boost Commercial Building Performance

SunTrac featured in the July 2018 The NEWS publication, “High Performance Buildings“.

Building owners are looking to increase performance despite higher upfront costs

Commercial buildings have high energy needs, and it’s no secret that the HVACR system is one of the largest sources of electricity consumption in them. Since the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) began tracking energy use through its Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) in 1979, total energy consumption has almost doubled. However, while there was a 14 percent increase in total buildings and a 22 percent increase in total floor space between 2003 and 2012, energy use was up only 7 percent, according to findings from the 2012 CBECS.

These findings can be explained by new construction being built to tighter building codes and higher energy performance standards, as well as higher-performance retrofits of existing buildings.

And though the upfront cost may be higher, many commercial building owners are looking to renewable energy technologies — like geothermal and solar — to help increase the performance of their properties.

“Renewable energy technologies are critical components of high-performing buildings for their potential to reduce carbon emissions and grid stress,” said Melissa Baker, senior vice president for technical core at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “LEED is driven by a set of system goals — the No. 1 system goal is to reduce the contribution of the building to global climate change. Because of the importance of that goal, the Energy and Atmosphere category of the LEED rating system is heavily weighted, and on-site renewable technologies are recognized as an important part of achieving this system goal.

“Additionally, depending on the location of the project, it is critical to consider the impacts that renewable energy technologies may have on the grid,” she continued. “Projects should manage peak demand and value energy conservation or reductions during peak hours.”

———- Jump to page 15, Solar Advantages section with SunTrac ———-


Solar is another growing trend in the high-performance building market. In the first quarter of 2018, the U.S. market installed 2.5 GWdc of solar photovoltaic (PV), a 13 percent year-over-year increase and a 37 percent quarter-over-quarter decrease, according to a report by GTM Research in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Per the report, non-residential PV — coming off of its biggest year ever — fell 34 percent quarter-over-quarter, despite posting 23 percent year-over-year growth. Total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years. By 2023, over 14 GWdc of PV capacity will be installed annually.

“We are increasingly seeing commercial projects take advantage of solar energy due to its increased availability and reduced cost,” Baker said. “The push for net-zero buildings in direct response to the need to reduce a building’s contributions to climate change is another key factor. Many jurisdictions are now prioritizing reductions in building energy use, public disclosure of energy consumption, and striving for zero-net energy consumption. Our LEED v4.1 O+M rating system includes the ability for a project to benchmark its energy use and carbon emissions. The first step is energy use reduction, but then a project must look at how to offset energy use with renewables.”

According to Rich Cooley, CEO, SunTrac USA, the overall commercial solar business is being embraced. He noted that for the solar electric (PV) side of the industry, there was definite growth due to the price point in the commercial space. And while the solar thermal side has a small overall market penetration, it’s all upside, he added.

TAX INCENTIVES: The SunTrac Hybrid Climate System integrates with new equipment installations and existing system upgrades to lower HVAC energy usage between 25 and 40 percent. The system also qualifies for the 30 percent federal tax credit for a quick ROI.

“Commercial building owners are still worried about ROI on initial investments, but now there are solutions for that, such as power purchase agreements, long-term leases, and both capital and operating long-term finance programs,” he said. “We’re on the solar thermal side. Our system integrates with commercial and residential air conditioners. We started in residential, but the commercial space is where we believe we have the largest growth opportunity.”

SunTrac’s hybrid climate systems provide thermal energy into the refrigerant flowing through the system in the refrigeration cycle. The solar thermal panel system allows a compressor or compressors to ramp down while providing and maintaining the temperature and pressure of the refrigerant flowing through the system, essentially acting as a stage two compressor.

“We can turn single-stage compressor-based commercial air conditioners into variable-speed systems,” Rich Cooley said.

Devin Cooley, president and COO, SunTrac, added the SunTrac system is great for commercial customers who may want to go solar PV but do not have enough roof space for the system.

“Our product and approach, with its smaller footprint, offers an option they can take,” he said. “Everyone is always looking for an opportunity to reduce the overall energy use of their property while at the same time maximizing the property for its intended purpose. Adding SunTrac to it is going to reduce the operating cost of the commercial property. If it costs less to operate, you have what’s called a higher cap rate, meaning it has greater cash flow and it means the building is more valuable to the building owner. We can help them get better HVAC systems and use a lot less electricity in their operation.”

The benefit to a high-performance building is the level of cooling will stay as designed, but the energy use will drop, Rich Cooley added.

“A lot of these buildings are trying to go to a net-zero energy footprint,” he explained. “And if we can provide 100 tons of cooling, but only use 50 tons of cooling worth of energy to do it, they cut the carbon footprint of the HVAC side of their energy footprint by 50 percent. We see that on a frequent basis.”

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