This article on 'greening' rooftop packaged units is the third of the ‘Greening Small Packaged Units’ series and addresses the use of exhaust air heat recovery in these types of systems.
Heat recovery is a well-understood and accepted method of energy conservation. However, the energy saved comes at a cost. Generally, an air conditioning system that has heat recovery capabilities operates with higher pressure drops than a system without heat recovery, and there may be other parasitic loads that are required to run the heat recovery equipment.
Energy codes generally require heat recovery on systems that use a significant amount of outdoor air, since it is a reasonable assumption that on such systems, which have very large ventilation loads, the amount of energy saved will greatly outweigh the additional energy required to operate the heat recovery equipment. However, depending on the operating conditions, there usually are energy benefits for systems that operate with even very minimal outdoor air requirements.
For an owner or designer trying to decide whether heat recovery is right for a particular application, it is important to know what these benefits are in terms of energy cost reductions, payback or return on investment, and, more and more frequently, carbon emission reductions.
For rooftop packaged units, the heat recovery product of choice is the heat wheel. The industry has settled on this product for many reasons, including first cost, footprint, efficiency and layout considerations. Aaon uses the Airxchange wheel, which is an ARI 1060 certified heat recovery device.
As with their rooftop economizers, Aaon provides this efficiency option as an integrated, factory installed option. This greatly reduces on site labor, eases commissioning, and ensures the owner of the energy benefits of their investment.
(If field-installed RTU economizers have a high rate of failure, imagine how often field installed heat recovery wheels are a commissioning problem!)
To aid in the heat recovery analysis, Airxchange has provided a free software program (registration required) to calculate the energy and cost benefits of applying their heat wheels on air-handling systems. This makes it very easy for an engineer to do a bin-data analysis of the benefits of this option. Given a particular heat wheel and some basic information about the RTU it is serving, it will calculate the gross heat recovery for cooling and heating hours, as well as calculate the additional fan energy required to operate the wheel. It will also perform a simple economic analysis calculating a net dollar savings when using the heat wheel.
An analysis of a 16 ton Aaon RM unit (pdf) shows the net energy savings available using a wheel on this type of unit. In the above analysis, a 5,200 CFM supply air system is compared looking at conditions of 100% OA and 30% OA. In both cases the analysis (using Seattle bin data, a 5 day week and typical office hours of operation) shows net energy cost savings, about $500/year on the 30% OA case, and about $1,700/year on the 100% OA case. Almost all of those savings come from the heat required to offset the ventilation load during the winter—the cooling savings are small by comparison.
However, the effect of the wheel on cooling is important in one respect--the use of the heat wheel may allow the designer to reduce the cooling (and, of course, heating) capacity of the RTU. In this example, the wheel adds 1.4 tons and 84 MBH to the cooling and heating capacity of the 30% OA system, and 3.7 tons and 230 MBH to the 100% OA system.
These ‘free’ tons of capacity that you gain by using the heat wheel effectively allows your cooling system to operate at a higher actual IPLV than is calculated in the ARI rating of the unit. ARI has acknowledged this in the publication of ARI Guideline V (Calculating the Efficiency of Energy Recovery Ventilation and Its Effect on Efficiency and Sizing of Building HVAC Systems). This guideline basically defines an efficiency rating for the heat recovery system (RER) and a ‘combined efficiency’ rating (CEF) for the entire system, accounting for the EER of the RTU and the RER of the heat wheel. This CEF is calculated in the Airxchange software linked above
If the goal of a design is not just energy savings, but carbon emission reduction, the wheel’s advantage is obvious. Every btuh that is recovered from the exhaust air is less natural gas that would need to be burned in a gas burner (the most common form of heat for these units in this region). But there is one other powerful way in which wheels can leverage energy savings or reduce carbon emissions: they can be used to greatly increase the applicability of a heat pump cycle for heating operation. In an Aaon unit, the entering air into the refrigerant coil needs to be 45º F or higher for the heat pump system to provide any heat. In the example reviewed above (RM16) the mixed air at a design heating day in Seattle is pre-heated to nearly 50 º F for the 100% OA case—well above the minimum needed for HP operation! And although capacity drops off, an air-source Aaon heat pump will still operate at conditions as low as 17 º F ambient. Converting the system to a water-source HP greatly improves the heat capacity at even the coldest days—and by reducing the amount of heat required from the ground, the use of the heat wheel can help keep ground loop costs down, too!
Converting a system from gas heat to heat pump operation has a large energy and carbon reduction benefit. First, it transfers the heating energy source from a high embodied-carbon fuel to electricity, which in the Pacific Northwest is considered a nearly carbon-free energy source. And it provides an advantage over electricity because, even with heating COP’s on the order of 1.5*, it greatly reduces the amount of utility electricity required to do the same amount of heating.
*at extreme conditions—moderate conditions greatly improve this performance