Optimizing HVAC Systems to Improve Energy Efficiency

Optimizing HVAC Systems to Improve Energy Efficiency

September 2, 2016

Article first appeared in Pharmtech

Real-time, continuous optimization of holistic systems improves energy efficiency and performance at manufacturing plants and laboratories.

By Ben Erpelding

Ben Erpelding, P.E., C.E.M

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—the chilled water plant, steam and hot water plant, and air distribution—consume 65% of the energy used in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, according to research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1). Chilled water systems also consume substantial amounts of water. Optimizing these systems can contribute significantly to carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction and other corporate sustainability goals, as well as reduce manufacturing costs.

Although optimizing HVAC systems is an opportunity to improve efficiency, typical concerns include the possibility that implementation will result in loss of product, the need to meet quality assurance (QA) standards, and site finance requirements. It is possible to overcome all these hurdles, however, with effective project management and an engineered software solution that addresses HVAC in a holistic manner to get maximum benefits.

Optimization guidelines
A typical pharmaceutical facility tends to have strict requirements for 100% reliability; however, even new, state-of-the-art HVAC systems can lose operational efficiency. Compromising on product quality is not an option, so system operators take charge, overriding set points and placing HVAC systems in manual control to maintain system resiliency. As a result, efficiency suffers.

The goal of optimization is to make mechanical systems work at peak effectiveness, all the time. Pharma facility directors can optimize even the most demanding environments, with new or existing equipment, by employing a combination of engineering expertise, relational control software, and an ongoing technical support platform that keeps systems at commissioned levels.

The most successful optimization projects follow these three guidelines:

  • What cannot be measured cannot be optimized. Without an accurate measure of energy use by each piece of equipment in the system, it is impossible to accurately predict and report the impact of varying conditions on the system.
  • Optimize systems, not just individual components. If an optimization plan focuses only on installing the most efficient pieces of equipment without considering how to maximize performance of the whole system, it won’t capture the total available system efficiency. Holistic automatic optimization of HVAC systems typically increases energy efficiency by an additional 10 to 25% over just installing new equipment.
  • Optimization must be automatic, dynamic, and continuous for maximum efficiency. Optimization should be a real-time dynamic process, not a static set-and-forget process. If a plant’s operational control is not based on real-time inputs, it cannot be fully optimized.

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