New & Notable

Notable Products: Energy Recovery Ventilator, Chillin' with the Ice Bear

May 01, 2006
May/June 2006
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2006 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about New and Notable

Energy Recovery Ventilator

        Energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) capture much of the heat and humidity from stale indoor exhaust air and transfer it to the incoming ventilation air during the winter. During the summer, they transfer heat and moisture from the makeup air to the exhaust air to keep the house cooler and drier while supplying air changes.The use of desiccant systems for humidity conditioning sets ERVs apart from the simpler heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), which transfer heat only.
        The UltimateAir RecoupAerator 200DX energy recovery ventilation system from Stirling Technology, Incorporated, couples up to 96% heat recovery with exceptional operating efficiency. While the efficiency of conventional permanent split capacitor (PSC) motors drops quickly when running at less than 100% of the rated speed, the brushless DC variable-speed electronically commutated permanent-magnet (ECPM) motor in the 200DX provides almost vanishing power consumption at low speeds. It uses only 34 watts at 70 CFM and 200 watts at 210 CFM. Its low-speed operating efficiency is an industry benchmark— a particularly important advance, as these ventilation products often run nonstop, usually at low speeds.The Electricity Use Index (EUI) is a measure of watts used per CFM of air flow at low speed; the Stirling 200DX has the lowest EUI of all products listed by the Heating Ventilation Institute (HVI), coming in at 0.597. Some ERVs and HRVs have an EUI of over 1.5.
        The 200DX comes with washable MERV-8 air filters, a generous lifetime trade-up discount, and a five-year warranty. There are also a number of optional features. An economizer module offers dynamic monitoring to provide free cooling when outdoor temperatures meet a certain threshold.A CO2 sensor can boost air flow in response to elevated carbon dioxide levels—a feature intended to answer the needs of variable-occupancy buildings,but one that will also help bring peace of mind to homeowners.A pressure sensor can monitor indoor and outdoor pressures, adjusting air flow to maintain a user-set differential—compensating for transient high-CFM air movement, such as occurs when a kitchen range fan is used; or to maintain positive indoor pressurization to prevent soil gases or moisture from entering the building. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration is also available, but it will increase electrical use significantly, because more fan power is required to move air through the dense media.
        The 200DX is also available as a window unit for offices and apartments (Model SW-120).

Chillin’ with the Ice Bear

        Thermal energy storage (TES) cooling technology has been around for some time, but it wasn’t until last year that a packaged system suitable for residential use (on larger homes or multiunit dwellings) became available.The Ice Bear, from Ice Energy, was designed to replace unitary air conditioners.
        The Ice Bear uses a 5-ton, off-theshelf condenser to freeze about 500 gallons of tap water into a solid block of ice overnight in an insulated module—up to 50 ton-hours of cooling capacity. During the day, less than 300 on-peak watts are required to pump refrigerant through coils in the ice storage module to a 7.5- ton evaporator inside the building. Chilled air is then distributed though ductwork.The system can be installed by a local HVAC technician, and may be optimized for peak-demand reduction, energy conservation, or dehumidification.
        Using off-peak, nighttime electricity to generate cooling capacity for later use can produce significant cost savings in areas where the electric utility provider offers time-of-day billing or off-peak rates. However, an Ice Bear system may not actually use less energy than unitary air conditioning; it may, in fact, require more total energy. But under the right circumstances, it can reduce power consumption better than standard air conditioning—in part because condensers (used to make the ice) work more efficiently in cooler nighttime temperatures, and in part because condensers can be sized to operate at a continuous optimal peak rather than cycling on and off. These point-of-use savings are most evident in climates with large diurnal temperature swings, such as the high-desert climate of the American Southwest.
        The Ice Bear provides greater environmental benefits, as well. Power plants often rely on diesel generators to meet peak demand, and reducing peak loads translates to less use of these air-polluting systems. In addition, nighttime power production at these plants means that fewer nitrous oxide emissions are converted to smog—a process that requires sunlight. Finally, utility power generation and distribution can be much more efficient at night than during the daytime resulting in potentially significant overall energy savings in the wider scheme of things.

Sustainable Art Achieves Recognition

        A new book, Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art, explores the intersection of sustainability and visual art. Featuring international visual artists who embrace sustainable design, the book documents these artists’ conceptual or practical forays into sustainability. For example, the artists’ collective Learning Group develops a system that turns discarded plastic bottles into building materials in Monterrey, Mexico, while Nils Norman creates functional objects and structures that offer creative alternatives to homogenous design.
        One stand-out artist featured in Beyond Green is Michael Rakowitz, whose work focuses on the need for affordable shelter. One of his installations is paraSITEs, a collaboration with homeless men in Cambridge, Massachusetts.The Cambridge collaboration resulted in inflatable structures made of cheap materials, including tape and plastic bags, that are inflated with waste heat vented from buildings.The structures can be deflated quickly and packed into a small carrying case.
        Published as a collaboration between the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and Independent Curators International in New York, the book is printed with soy-based ink on paper certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

Soy-Based Adhesive Replaces Formaldehyde Columbia

        Forest Products is converting all of its veneercore hardwood plywood plants to formaldehydefree manufacturing processes, using a patented, soybased adhesive cooperatively developed by Columbia, the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and Hercules, Incorporated. Called PureBon, the new adhesive is made primarily of soy flour and will allow Columbia to completely eliminate formaldehyde from its veneercore and Woodstalk agrifibercore panel products by 2007.
        “We’ve been working for several years to develop a resin that would allow us to do away with formaldehyde while achieving a better level of performance, and this is the winning recipe,” says Columbia Executive Vice President of Plywood and Veneer Operations Brad Thompson.
        Urea formaldehyde (UF) is used in the majority of North American and imported hardwood plywood panels and has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, as “carcinogenic to humans.” Currently there are few no-added-formaldehyde (NAF) alternatives to UF-based adhesives on the market, and all are significantly higher in cost.

PBS Airs Green Building Show

        Building Green, a new television program about building healthy green homes, began airing this spring on PBS.Created by Kevin Contreras and Michael Mattioli, the first-season program follows the building of a state-of-the-art strawbale home in Santa Barbara, California.
        Contreras, a builder and an actor with a long list of commercial and television credits, sees this type of construction as “building for the 21st century,” and he brings an authentic passion for green architecture to his role of host and producer.
        “This is a groundbreaking program, and we are thrilled to share all we’ve learned about green building with our viewers,” says Contreras.
        The show covers green building design, construction, and decorating. The featured strawbale home incorporates solar power, integrates a number of energy-saving measures, and uses energyefficient appliances. The show also explores dozens of techniques for designing and building a healthier home.These include the use of low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, natural earth and gypsum plasters,and more environmentally sound cleaning supplies. Saving topsoil, choosing drought-tolerant local plants, installing graywater recovery systems, and capturing rainwater in underground cisterns for use in the dry season, are just a few of the landscaping techniques demonstrated on the show.

Energy Star Includes Rechargeable Tools and Appliances

        Battery chargers for cordless tools and appliances are the latest products eligible to earn EPA’s Energy Star label, which identifies energy-efficient products. Americans use approximately 230 million products with rechargeable batteries, and Energy Star chargers will be at least 35% more energy efficient.
        “Expanding the Energy Star Label to battery chargers is the next step in promoting energy efficiency,” says EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum.“By using more energy-efficient battery chargers,Americans can save money on their energy bills and help prevent greenhouse gas emissions.”
        Battery-charging systems recharge a wide variety of cordless products, including power tools, small household appliances, personal-care products like electric toothbrushes and electric shavers, and garden tools such as weed and hedge trimmers. More and more consumer products are becoming cordless and portable, requiring battery chargers and power adapters. Battery chargers—even when they are not actively charging a product—can draw as much as 20 times more energy than is actually stored in the battery. Energy Star guidelines for battery-charging systems focus on inactive modes of recharging, including battery maintenance mode (where a charger is connected to a fully charged product), and standby mode (where a charger is plugged in, but no product is connected).
        These new guidelines complement EPA’s existing Energy Star external power adapter specification, which was announced in January 2005. Power adapters are devices that convert highvoltage power from a wall outlet into low-voltage power for devices such as notebook computers, monitors, and other electronics. To date, more than 20 manufacturers of external power adapters have joined Energy Star and are producing energy-efficient models, which are available with mobile phones, digital cameras, and other products.

California Creates Largest Solar Program

        After over a year of discussion and collaboration, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the California state government have created the largest solar program of its kind in any state in the country. The California Solar Initiative, a ten-year, $2.9 billion program, is designed to help California move toward a cleaner energy future and to help decrease the costs of solar electricity for California consumers. The program aims to increase the amount of installed solar capacity on rooftops in the state by 3,000 megawatts (MW) by 2017.
        “California has long been a leader on environmentally sound approaches to the provision of energy.We adopted formalized policies on renewable power and energy efficiency in our Energy Action Plans,” says Michael R. Peevey, president of the PUC.“The California Solar Initiative continues that tradition with an aggressive new program to promote solar development.”
        The California Solar initiative will provide $2.9 billion in rebates over a ten-year period.These rates will decline steadily over that same time. Funds will come from electric and gas distribution customers of investor-owned utilities. The funds will initially be used for the installation of solar photovoltaics. After workshops are conducted later this year, solar water heating and solar heating and cooling systems will be added as well.
        “Today’s decision signals California’s vote for a cleaner, more reliable energy future,” says Commissioner Rachelle Chong. “Now it's up to Californians to make this a reality by stepping up to the plate to go solar.”
        One part of the program, which will be overseen by the CEC, will focus on encouraging builders and developers of new housing to use solar installations in new construction.The rest of the California Solar Initiative, which will be overseen by the PUC, will cover existing residential housing, as well as existing and new commercial and industrial properties.
        The program sets aside 10% of funding for low-income customers and affordable housing installations. The PUC may also offer low-cost financing options for affordable housing solar installations. Up to 5% of the annual budget will also be available for potential research, development, and demonstration activities that emphasize the demonstration of solar and solar-related technologies.
        All facilities that participate in the program are required, at the very least, to undergo an energy efficiency audit to identify more cost-effective energy efficiency investment options at each facility. The PUC will also develop additional workshops to determine incentives for newly constructed buildings that participate in utility energy efficiency new-construction programs and exceed the existing building standards by a certain threshold.
        “We are taking an important step today to lay out a framework for an orderly, ten-year approach to creating a sustainable solar industry. Our hope is that solar will become a major part of California’s energy portfolio, to provide clean and inexpensive distributed generation to millions of California consumers,” says Peevey.

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