Three Laws of HVAC Optimization

HVAC systems hold the key to energy efficiency in pharma

By Alaina Bookstein, Optimum Energy

Pharmaceutical manufacturing facility executives increasingly face demands to cut operational costs and drive down energy and water use to meet corporate sustainability goals. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are a natural place to look for such savings: these systems typically account for 65 percent of the energy used in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, according to research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and chilled water plants consume large amounts of water every day. Optimizing HVAC systems to minimize energy and water use clearly has enormous financial and sustainability benefits.

HVAC efficiency projects, however, often fail to deliver on their promise. In environments where maintaining precise ambient conditions is essential to product quality, even new, state-of-the-art HVAC systems lose operational efficiency after installation. System operators, faced with pressing operational needs, understandably will take control, overriding set points and sacrificing efficiency.

The HVAC efficiency upgrades that succeed aim for system-level optimization (mechanical systems working at peak effectiveness, all the time) rather than simple individual component efficiency. The engineers at Optimum Energy have broken down this approach into three laws of optimization:

1. Measurement comes first. 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. In other words, if you can’t measure it, you can’t optimize it.

2. Focus on the system. If an optimization plan focuses 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 efficiency. Holistic, automatic optimization of HVAC systems typically increases energy efficiency by an additional 10 to 25 percent over just installing new equipment.

3. Optimization must be automatic, dynamic and continuous. To achieve maximum efficiency, optimization must be a real-time dynamic process, not a static set-and-forget process. Operational control of a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant or research laboratory must be based on real-time inputs and adjustments. Without that data and automation, you cannot fully optimize the HVAC system while maintaining strict environmental conditions.
Following these laws can lead to impressive results. For example, Amgen’s Thousand Oaks campus in southern California improved its average efficiency rating by 33 percent and saved $990,000 and 11 million kWh annually by optimizing three chiller plants and upgrading its building automation system (BAS).

The facility installed Optimum Energy’s OptimumLOOP technology, which works through the BAS to continuously and dynamically adapt the chilled water plant’s operations to conform with fluctuating loads, weather and occupancy conditions. A connection to the cloud-based OptiCx software platform increased visibility into plant operations, which revealed that a lead plant was operating extremely inefficiently.

Pharmaceutical facility directors can wring savings out of even the most demanding environments — with new or existing equipment — by following the laws of optimization.

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