The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{October 13, 2010}   Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences

In my attempt to drag my recession-sodden career onwards and upwards I do my best to take on new challenges and take ownership of my part of a project wherever I can. Late last week was a perfect example of that, and now I suddenly find myself responsible for the ‘consequential improvements’ for the project I’m working on. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but none-the-less it did and I’m rather pleased.

The ‘consequential improvements’ (or CI) are a particularly gratifying bit of the project to be part of in my opinion. Contrary to popular belief that’s not because I’m especially fond of long words & tongue twisters, it’s because CI is all about energy savings, and I’m a big fan of sustainability.

As of 2006 Part L of the building regulations means that if you change or extend a building over 1000m2 in the UK you must spend at least 10% of your budget on making the existing building more energy efficient. That could be anything from installing solar panels, to upgrading the windows to have a better level of thermal insulation to using the waste heat from an industrial process to heat the offices, the canteen kitchens or even changing processes to eliminate the heat use altogether! I think this is a brilliant way of changing our energy gobbling grey 1970s monstrosities that we don’t have the funds to replace into lean green manufacturing machines.

So at the moment I have about £300,000 to spend, and I’m researching a huge variety of different energy saving possibilities. So far I’ve looked at using heat recovery from the compressed air, as typically 80-93% of the electricity used in compressed air is ‘wasted’ by being converted into heat, and compressed air often accounts for around 40% of a plants electricity bill – that’s a lot of wasted electricity! I’ve also been looking at using variable speed drives, these mean that when you don’t need all of a service such as hot water, steam or compressed air you can turn down the machine generating it and use less power. Think of it like using a dimmer switch to get just the right amount of light – if the light isn’t on full you’ll be saving electricity. I’m also looking at economisers, which use the heat in the exhaust gases of a boiler to pre-heat the water coming in, as well as energy efficient lighting, improved insulation and many other options.

Considering that part of the reason that manufacturing has reduced in the UK is not just labour costs but also energy costs – perhaps Part L and the Consequential Improvements (said like that it almost sounds like a band name) will not only help to save the planet but will also help to save engineering in this country!


Adam says:

Nice post and food for thought – in the automotive world its a lot of small ideas coming together to give some significant efficiency and hence environmental gains.

Your sustainability arguments ref UK manufacturing becomes even more important when you consider the logistic savings – so much manufacturing has moved to eastern europe (and now off to North Africa, China, India etc) that we now have some very long logistical chains (i can quote a part used on one of our vehicles that travels 14,000 km on average around Europe!!). Unfortunaly if you want to lessen the environmental impact of energy usage in manufacturing the UK is not that competitive in the EU – France and Norway are the leaders atm.

geekchloe says:

Hi Adam,

I think many people are very uncomfortable with change, and that’s especially true in the current economic climate. Unfortunately, despite the eventual monetary savings that energy saving ideas inevitably bring they do tend to require capital investment and people are too risk averse, or just too strapped for cash to go for it. I think once the change in the building regs has forced more companies into investing in energy saving solutions there will be a better understanding of sustainability and so it will be seen as less of a risk. The progress that France and Norway are making can only be a good thing, they can act as positive role models for us here in the UK!
It’s really good to hear that the automotive industry is moving forward (even if in little steps) with sustainability and you make a very good point about the energy savings to made through logistics, it’s definitely one to consider – even if only during construction phase as I don’t have influence over manufacturing myself.

Thanks for reading,


Emang says:

Hi Chloe! Have you tuned in to the secret life of the National Grid? Fantastic program, it may give you a few more ideas about the economics involved in electricity usage. Also, there has been a lot of buzz in the air about smart grids and smart meters. The basic idea relating to these is if we were to link into the economics involved, we could create smart electrical appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers which would turn on at night, when electricity is cheap. This would drive down demand for electricity during the day, resulting in less electricity “wasted” at night. I am sure plants are doing it already, but production at night is a cheaper option in terms of energy usage. Only issue is noise during those “unsociable” hours.

geekchloe says:

Hi Emang,

I’ve not watched the secret life of the National Grid – I don’t watch much TV really, but I’ll certainly keep an eye open for it.
When I lived in a house I always ran my washing machine/dishwasher at night as it’s significantly cheaper. Now I live in a flat though and our bedroom is only across the hall from the kitchen so we can’t run things at night because it’s just too noisy so you’re definitely right there. It would be great to see more smart meters in action, and see them having a greater influence over our domestic appliances.
In terms of the factories and other facilities I design, most of them already run 24/7 so are already running at night (usually in industrial areas so noise isn’t an issue). Where this isn’t the case it’s certainly something to bear in mind for reducing running costs for my clients, but as it doesn’t actually reduce energy usage it probably wouldn’t count as a ‘consequential improvement’.

Thanks for reading,


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