2019 Cooling Report: Cooling a warming planet

By Simon Bowden

With climate scientists predicting that average annual global temperatures will continue to rise, summers are expected to last longer and become more severe.

Add to that more stringent energy efficiency standards and ever-rising electricity prices, and the HVAC/R industry is well positioned to offer businesses and homeowners heating and cooling system upgrades that will reduce energy costs.

Given Canada’s huge size and wildly differing climatic conditions, this will mean different cooling solutions in different parts of the country, but whether people’s ultimate desire is to save the planet or simply save on bills, the cooling market is likely to only get hotter.

ON THE RADAR: ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Manufacturers and contractors have already seen the effects of the climate crisis on consumer behaviour: a product’s energy efficiency is now a key important selling point.

Tom Carney, North American director of sales with Fujitsu says, “We have found that Canadian consumers are very aware of the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels and they are making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint.”

It is a sentiment picked up on by other manufacturers as well.

“Energy efficiency is massively important in what system a homeowner selects,” agrees Sonny Pirrotta, national sales manager HVAC, Life and Device Solutions Division at Panasonic Canada. “Apart from a significant reduction in energy costs and earning a greater return on investment, it also enhances the quality of life of the occupant by adding comfort and, in many cases, notable health benefits.”

Even if the person buying the equipment won’t be occupying the space being cooled themselves, contractors should not be shy about pushing the less obvious benefits of higher-spec systems.

As Pirotta notes, “In the real estate market, energy efficient homes frequently sell or rent at a higher price than standard homes.”

WEIGHING COSTS AND BENEFITS

While the future is of concern to many, it’s the present that occupies the thoughts of most Canadians. This is why price point is still the biggest factor for many consumers.

Powermatic’s director of HVAC sales, Benoit Mathurin, says the cost of equipment can vary in importance depending on who is buying.

“On the new construction side it’s all about price, but on the replacement market it is different – the quality of the equipment you sell is more important,” he says. “Contractors ask about inventory, price, service, parts and warranties. Warranty is really important.”

Andy Cincar, Daikin North America’s division vice-president – Canada, says the ending of incentive programs is also having an effect on consumer choices.

“The cancellation of IESO’s Save On Rebates program in Ontario, coupled with changes in the Quebec market, will influence the HVAC product mix away from cold climate products and move it toward lower-efficiency systems,” he says. “Still, there will always be a segment of the market that will gravitate to high-efficiency, high-performing products.

“We expect the growth of all indoor comfort product segments to continue during 2019,” adds Cincar.

That behaviour has also been noted at Napoleon, whose managing director of HVAC, Christian Romeroll, says, “With cooling products, we see for the Canadian market an increase in higher efficiency ACs, from 16 SEER to 18 SEER, in spite of the fact that 13 SEER units continue to be very strong in the market.”

DUCTLESS REVOLUTION CONTINUES

The vast majority of heat pumps in Canada are ductless, a segment that continues to grow in popularity.
“The ductless revolution is continuing in a strong way,” says Fujitsu’s Carney. “When people think of air conditioning, they immediately think of cold air, but these units do it all; heat, cool, humidify, dehumidify and disinfect.”

Climate and its impact on the efficiency, or coefficient of performance (COP), will play a big a part in how far the revolution will spread, however, notes Panasonic Canada’s Pirotta. “There are low-ambient limitations which limit the COP, so mini-splits, ductless and VRF units provide higher COP in B.C., for example, than in northern Ontario.”

Daikin is one manufacturer pushing hard to increase the reach of VRF technology – which it terms VRV. “A single-phase VRV system supports both forced-air and ductless application,” says Cincar. “The technology provides the capability to zone, allowing customized indoor comfort and greater energy efficiencies.”

COMMERCIAL CONSIDERATIONS

With almost 40 per cent of total energy costs linked to a building’s HVAC/R systems, there is a tangible benefit for commercial building owners who can capitalize on efficiencies.

“Building owners are seeking energy-saving features which lead to lower utility costs, added comfort for their occupants, as well as reliability, redundancy and controllability of equipment,” says Pirrotta. “Improvements in comfort, indoor air quality and equipment reliability can all be achieved with HVAC maintenance and upgrades.”

Some commercial and industrial clients are targeting savings by focusing on humidification.

“Direct evaporative cooling is supplementing or reducing the amount of mechanical air conditioning required in a lot of heat-generating buildings, such as cannabis grow-ops and data centres,” says Glen Greer, Ontario sales manager and application specialist with Enersol. But the costs go beyond the electricity bill for some clients.

“For example, long-term care facilities require humidification for patients, who might have respiratory or skin issues, but some institutions are shutting off their humidifiers after looking at their electricity bill. By going with an evaporative technology, we give them some free cooling with the humidification at the same time.”

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