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Staying energy efficient in uncertain times

Here are some tips to help you reduce consumption in particularly energy-intensive zones: university labs

Posted by Hannah Vickers | June 15, 2017 | HVAC & lighting

By Ian Thomas, Product Technical Manager – Air Products, TROX UK 

One of the undesirable outcomes of the Brexit vote has been the delaying of important projects on campus involving capital investment. The double-whammy of a general election and ongoing discussions around the future of the UK in Europe has created significant uncertainties for universities regarding future financial arrangements, in terms of both higher education budgets from central government, and the future of research projects involving European funding.

While these decisions hang in the balance, many universities are being forced to continue to operate old and inefficient air conditioning plant that would otherwise have been replaced. As energy bills cannot be put on hold, delays in the construction of new facilities will inevitably lead to higher overheads associated with the operation of ageing HVAC plant.

For those managing the day-to-day operation of air conditioning systems, there are also problems relating to escalating complaints from building occupants. Ageing systems have a limited ability to maintain comfort conditions, and staff and students can become impatient regarding persistent problem zones across the site.

Universities are high consumption sites, open to students and staff for more hours per week than the average commercial building

Universities are high consumption sites, open to students and staff for more hours per week than the average commercial building. Some zones, such as libraries, are occupied on a 24/7 basis, almost every day of the year. University laboratories, in particular, are high consumption zones, responsible for between 50% and 80% of the total energy-related (non-residential) carbon emissions of research-intensive universities.

So, here are our suggestions for reducing consumption in these particularly energy-intensive zones of the campus – the university labs.

1. Improve overall energy efficiency of laboratories via the installation of a room air management system, such as the TROX EASYLAB system. This will automatically control all supply and extract air for the laboratory to ensure that the required ventilation strategy is maintained. Integrating the air management of the room with that of the fume cupboards (or other technical extract) to automatically balance and offset changing requirements, reduces the total supply and extract volumes. For example, if the fume cupboards are open and extracting air, there is not the same requirement for the room system to carry out this process. By scaling down room exhaust air extraction in line with fume cupboard extraction, the room air management system is able to prevent over-supply and extraction of conditioned air from the space, improving energy efficiency significantly.

2. Explore whether air change rates for the air conditioning systems on campus could be reduced (with the provision of local overrides) at the weekend, or overnight, when the laboratories are unoccupied.

3. Identify whether air change rates are higher than necessary in specific zones. Often air change rates are set on a site-wide basis and could be reduced safely in some low risk areas of the site.

4. Assess whether fume cupboards in the laboratories could be made more energy efficient by just retrofitting new control technology into the existing cabinets. The hardware part of the fume cupboard has a longer product lifecycle than the control technology. So, an upgrade of the controls could give enhance energy efficiency, even if replacement is out of the question.

5. Weed out items of equipment that are only capable of operating at fixed volumes or speeds. These units cannot adapt in line with demand and are fixed to operate at their maximum at all times. By contrast, units capable of variable air volume, or variable fan speed, can make significant energy savings by matching supply more closely to demand.

6. Introduce devices to close the sashes of fume cupboards automatically when they are not in use. It is very common for students to leave sashes up whilst they are away from the fume cupboards, wasting energy. Automatic systems, based on presence detection, can prevent this.

7. Discuss the possibility of reducing working sash heights for fume cupboards. Reducing the working sash height from 500mm to 400mm, for example, can achieve a 20% reduction in the air volume at no cost and with negligible impact on working practices. 

8. Look into local cooling or extraction devices, such as ventilated down flow tables, canopy hoods or fume exhaust ‘snorkels’. These are capable of reducing loading on the central air conditioning facilities for the site by taking heat away at source.

These are just a few ways of addressing energy efficiency in laboratories. For more suggestions, download our laboratory specific guide at or telephone 01842 754545 to discuss possible solutions. 

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