Total Benefit – HVAC
How HVAC Fits Into The Big Picture of Global Energy

Total Benefit Analysis - HVAC |Aerial view of HVAC system on the roof top. Complex air conditioning system with pipes on the top of the office building.

Advancements in Energy and HVAC

First, the bad news – we are living in an ice age.


Temperature and CO2 from Antactic Ice Cores over the Past 800,000 Years


For the last 3 million years, the planet has gone through many cycles of warming and cooling, glacial and inter-glacial periods.

Also interesting is that the past 4 inter-glacial periods show peak temperatures higher than we have seen in the past 12 to 15 thousand years.
Let’s look at the past peak about 125 thousand years ago.


Greenland C02 and Ice Thaw | Total Benefit Analysis – HVAC


A glance at today’s globe would show Greenland completely covered by ice up to 3 kilometers thick.

125 thousand years ago, as the planet warmed over the span of a few thousand years, sea levels rose above current levels by over 14 feet.


Temperature and CO2 from Antactic Ice Cores over the Past 800,000 Years



I suppose if you are an HVAC engineer, you know a lot about Delta T (ΔT), air contaminant concentrations, and so on, but you might not know a whole lot about paleoclimatology.

Looking at the graph, it is hard to say whether CO2 or temperature comes first, but the two are largely parallel. CO2 concentrations seem to have a goldilocks level in the 250 to 300 range.

This, amongst others, is the risk that scientists point to with CO2 emissions. These sea levels and global temperatures might happen regardless of human CO2 emissions.

As designers and economists, measuring and managing risks is part of our daily work. So how do we go about engineering the planet to be “not too hot, not too cold, but just right?”




Electricity and Liquid Fuels Chart


A few pieces of great news!

First, two-thirds of our energy consumption can come from clean, renewable sources at competitive prices to fossil fuels.

Starting now.



Electricity and Liquid Fuels Chart


Second, global supplies of these sources dwarf our current consumption of energy, and North American supplies, such as solar, are particularly abundant where we live.


Annual Average Wind Speed


Installations, such as wind power plants, are doubling and redoubling to where current sources are more than 8% of US capacity.


Total Benefit Analysis – HVAC | Global Energy Supplies


Third, we don’t even need more energy due to efficiency improvements.

In the book Green at No Cost, we shared this projection for global energy supplies from 2005. It shows fossil fuel consumption dropping rapidly as renewable sources for electrical energy ramp up.

At right, I have penciled in a scenario for North America, projecting to 2030 and 2050.

Efficiency improvements will continue to reduce consumption from over 100 quads in the year 2000, to 80 quads in 2050.

→ Solar sources continue to grow and become the largest source.

→ Coal phases out completely by 2030.

→ Gas stays in the picture as a good variable source of electricity while phasing out as heating fuel.

→ Nuclear, going out on a limb, makes a comeback in a new failsafe form.

→ Oil remains the most efficient source of high-density transportation fuel.

→ Biomass makes a resurgence past pre-industrial levels due to integrated forest and waste management.

Transportation emissions are offset by forest growth carbon capture. See Total Benefit for Mass Timber.


Emerging Technology Enabled Cost Effective Energy Savings


This graph shows the interrelationship between savings and consumption.

Business As Usual (solid black line), growth in building energy use tracks steadily up over the 40-quad level in the 20 years from 2010 to 2030.

Countering that rise is increased efficiency across a broad range of building design elements. These accumulate to achieve the Energy Savings Target (dotted black line).

The outcome is that buildings will consume 50% less energy, in the 20-quad range, and equal to the savings we were looking for on the previous slide.

While Vermeulens can help put construction cost numbers against these things, the real heroes are the engineering wizards who create this newly built environment.


To watch this presentation go to Carbon Neutral Building Trends with Jacob Knowles, Director of Sustainable Design at BR+A Consulting Engineers. This portion of the presentation begins at time mark 12:17.

Richard Vermeulen - Construction Economist for Green Building

Richard Vermeulen is the construction economist creating profitable sustainability in the built environment. He’s the founder of GreenLight™, author of Green at No Cost, and developer of the Total Benefit Analysis and The Value Process as well as co-CEO, lead economist, and chief estimator for Vermeulens. Richard has developed industry-leading standards for estimating and data-basing complex construction projects throughout North America. In addition to consulting for thousands of major projects over 30 years, Richard has designed and built residential and commercial projects, from hammering nails to hound-dogging bureaucracies. He has traveled extensively, always with an awareness of how cities do and don’t work.

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