Setting the Standard for Energy Consumption

By Andy Fouss, PE, Principal

For many Americans, sustainable design seems like a relatively new trend in the architecture, engineering and construction world. In the early 2000s, people began to embrace the “going green” movement, which has grown substantially over the past two decades thanks in part to new technologies and a better understanding of our climate. However, energy efficiency has actually been an integral part of the engineering design world since the 1970s, sparked by two separate oil crises that sent energy prices skyrocketing.

ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, or ASHRAE 90.1, was first published in 1975 as a result of an OPEC embargo two years prior that caused the price of oil to quadruple. Multiple editions have been released since, based on changing technology, energy prices and requirements. While the standard can be updated several times a year with approved addenda, it is published in its entirety every three years. Efforts are currently underway to develop the upcoming version, ASHRAE 90.1-2019.

I have always had an interest in energy conservation and energy efficiency and joined ASHRAE as a member early on in my career. When the opportunity arose to help reduce the national energy consumption in a responsible manner, I quickly jumped at the chance; now, I serve as a voting member on the mechanical subcommittee for ASHRAE 90.1. The more I get involved in the committee, the more important it becomes for me, personally. I knew it would be great opportunity to influence the global energy use, but I did not realize how much I would learn. The committee is filled with some of the greatest minds in our industry. Every time we get together, I learn something new from one of the many industry leaders in fans, refrigeration equipment, boilers, pumps, electricity and more.

Serving on the committee has been a truly eye-opening experience. The amount of time, effort, debate and collaboration that goes into developing the standard is extraordinary. Every decision, large or small, is deliberated over by each industry leader to ensure it is the right thing to do. Through this process, we discuss the best way to design things, the advantages and disadvantages to every technology, costs associated with implementing each technology, and the energy that can be saved by each technology. Our next step is drafting the code language, where we debate everything down to the punctuation. The code language, which portrays the requirement, includes all the lessons learned, cost justification and ideas that can be used to improve our design.

Technology is a key component in keeping ASHRAE 90.1 up to date. Without the technologies developed by manufacturers, the committee would struggle to meet our goals of reducing energy. However, the biggest influences on how the standard is revised are payback and responsible design. There are lots of technologies that can be used to reduce energy, but they are often expensive, difficult to incorporate into designs, or not appropriate for every region of the country. The committee evaluates every change to ensure there is a reasonable payback on the upfront capital cost to implement energy savings measures. The committee also needs to ensure it is applicable across the entire country. The U.S. has some drastically different climates; what makes sense in colder regions like Alaska may not make sense in hot, dry regions like Arizona or hot, humid regions like Louisiana.

Being involved in ASHRAE 90.1 has given me an exciting look at what’s to come in our industry. For example, as the cost of solar power and wind turbines come down and the effectiveness of the technology improves, the payback makes it an appealing option for those looking for renewable energy sources. For someone who has long been interested in energy conservation, serving on the ASHRAE 90.1 mechanical subcommittee has been an incredible and fulfilling experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about the standard or energy-efficient design, I invite you to reach out to me today.

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