High-efficiency commercial air conditioners

The U.S. Department of Energy is joining with the private sector to develop and deploy high-efficiency air conditioners for commercial buildings. The new rooftop units are expected to reduce energy use by as much as 60 percent, according to the DOE.


Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) is joining with the private sector to support market-based efforts to develop and deploy next-generation high-efficiency air conditioners for commercial buildings. As part of a voluntary program, the Department worked with members of the DOE Commercial Building Energy Alliances, including Target and Walmart, to develop new performance criteria for 10-ton capacity commercial air conditioners, also known as rooftop units (RTUs). When built according to the requirements of the new specifications, these high-efficiency rooftop units are expected to reduce energy use by as much as 50-60 percent over the current equipment. Commercial buildings account for 18 percent of U.S. energy use and include significant opportunities for energy and financial savings that can help American companies be more competitive on a global scale.

To help achieve the best-in-class rooftop units requested by industry partners, DOE National Laboratories, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Lab, will provide technical assistance to manufacturers or developers who want to build the more efficient units. Interested manufacturers will reportedly receive assistance in designing, constructing, measuring, and testing the new air conditioner units produced to this specification.

Manufacturers nationwide have a strong motivation to produce the more efficient units, allegedly, since participating commercial building owners have expressed an interest in buying the new units if manufacturers can meet the new energy efficient specifications at an affordable price with the range of features the companies need.

The new performance criteria were developed by industry partners and facilitated by DOE technical assistance. The rooftop units resulting from this specification will have an Integrated Energy Efficiency Rating (IEER) of 18 and use 50-60 percent less energy compared to the current ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standard, depending on location and facility type, according to the DOE. Nationwide, if all the 10-ton commercial units sold in a given year were built using these criteria, businesses could reportedly save about $50 million a year in energy costs.

Additionally, the units will include advanced controls that support automated communication and diagnostics, enabling wireless communication to the owners' automation systems and ensuring that the units operate at top energy and operational performance levels throughout their service life, according to the DOE.

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