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Takeaways from the 2014 ASHRAE Conference
I recently attended the 2014 ASHRAE Conference. If you know me, you’ll realize what a big deal this is, because I usually shy away from industry conferences and trade forums. So why did I attend this one?
Simply put, I was searching for new technologies to improve our design process. I dream of the day when our industry wakes up and becomes more like Silicon Valley, always reaching to discover and develop the next great thing.
Now that the ASHRAE conference is over, I’m pleased I was able to gather information on new technologies and gain exposure to new trends in the industry.
Overall, the experience was positive and informative. Three things stood out in particular:
- New geothermal track
- High -quality sessions
- Integrated design
I made every effort to attend as many sessions as possible in this track. Overall, I was pleased with the content, quality and delivery of information. I learned about:
- Unequal vertical borehole length and spacing
- Quality control assessment of vertical ground heat exchangers
- Performance case studies of vertical GSHP
- New developments in simulation and modeling of GHX
- New combinations of renewable energy and vertical GSHP systems
- Lessons learned on vertical GSHP installations
As you can tell, the focus on vertical Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) systems was a bit repetitive. That was my only complaint with the track. For future conferences, I’m putting in a request for ASHRAE to expand into horizontal, lake\pond and ocean loops.
Vertical GSHP systems are cost effective for most commercial projects. However, they’re typically the largest initial cost option. Considering increasing market penetration and GSHP installations, we should provide variations for GSHP's to meet varying site constraints. As the mean temperature variation of our climate increases (summer and winter), GSHP's advantage over air source heat pumps increases.
I tend to view conferences through the eyes of a consultant. Advertising and manufacturer plugs were noticeably absent throughout the entire conference. As an engineer, I thought this was great. The presenters focused entirely on the technologies, and I found the presentations much more technical and data intensive than other conferences I’ve attended.
That said, some balance would be welcome. I feel it would be beneficial to at least mention if the technology is commercially available. Oftentimes, great discoveries are made, yet they never make it to production. As a consultant, I find the technology is only useful if our clients can purchase the systems we design.
Finally, the conference reinforced the importance of integrated design. Through integrated design, the Bullitt Foundation designed and built a Net Zero Commercial Building (NZB) that meets the Living Building Challenge. Sure, others have created NZB's around the world, but most purchase green power or have large sites for massive photovoltaic arrays.
The Bullitt Center achieved this feat on a relatively small parcel, and it’s not only net zero energy, but also net zero water. Achieving both NZ energy and water means that the site must generate energy and capture water, then purify the water to potable standards. To design successful projects of this nature requires complete integrated design among all parties having jurisdiction – consultants, owners, contractors, and regulatory authorities.
Overall, I’m pleased with the knowledge and experience I walked away with from the conference. I’m now more aware of common challenges, have a more extensive list of alternative solutions and can better differentiate the services I provide. If you’re involved in building design, I highly recommend attending the next ASHRAE Conference.
*Figure 1: Integrated design process (Credit: Larsson, 2009)
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