IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change Alternative HVAC systems in commercial buildings

The following paragraphs describe two alternatives to conventional HVAC systems in commercial buildings that together can reduce the HVAC system energy use by 30 to 75%. These savings are in addition to the savings arising from reducing heating and cooling loads.

Radiant chilled-ceiling cooling

A room may be cooled by chilling a large fraction of the ceiling by circulating water through pipes or lightweight panels. Chilled ceiling (CC) cooling has been used in Europe since at least the mid-1970s. In Germany during the 1990s, 10% of retrofitted buildings used CC cooling (Behne, 1999). Significant energy savings arise because of the greater effectiveness of water than air in transporting heat and because the chilled water is supplied at 16°C to 20°C rather than at 5°C to 7°C. This allows a higher chiller COP when the chiller operates, but also allows more frequent use of ‘water-side free cooling,’ in which the chiller is bypassed altogether and water from the cooling tower is used directly for space cooling. For example, a cooling tower alone could directly meet the cooling requirements 97% of the time in Dublin, Ireland and 67% of the time in Milan, Italy if the chilled water is supplied at 18°C (Costelloe and Finn, 2003).

Displacement ventilation

Conventional ventilation relies on turbulent mixing to dilute room air with ventilation air. A superior system is ‘displacement ventilation’ (DV) in which air is introduced at low speed through many diffusers in the floor or along the sides of a room and is warmed by internal heat sources (occupants, lights, plug-in equipment) as it rises to the top of the room, displacing the air already present. The thermodynamic advantage of displacement ventilation is that the supply air temperature is significantly higher for the same comfort conditions (about 18oC compared with about 13oC in a conventional mixing ventilation system). It also permits significantly smaller airflow.

DV was first applied in northern Europe; by 1989 it had captured 50% of the Scandinavian market for new industrial buildings and 25% for new office buildings (Zhivov and Rymkevich, 1998). The building industry in North America has been much slower to adopt DV; by the end of the 1990s fewer than 5% of new buildings used under-floor air distribution systems (Lehrer and Bauman, 2003). Overall, DV can reduce energy use for cooling and ventilation by 30 to 60%, depending on the climate (Bourassa et al., 2002; Howe et al., 2003).