Ashrae: Chapter and verse

The USA may be half the world away, but American standards are regularly followed in the Middle East's MEP sector and ASHRAE's presence in the region is growing. At a recent conference, president Terry Townsend took time out to tell Alison Luke how the Society is making moves in the Middle East.

In November the Bahrain Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) was officially launched by the Society’s president Terry Townsend. The fourth Chapter to be set up in the Gulf, its arrival confirms the growing importance of ASHRAE in the Middle East and the presence of the worldwide president at the launch is a signal of the importance the Society places on the region.

The event formed part of an official tour that began with the 2006 Region at Large Chapter Regional Conference in Dubai. The three-day event hosted by the locally-based Emirates Falcon Chapter and co-chaired by the Lebanese Chapter saw speakers cover topics ranging from new technologies, the development of new standards specific to the local climate and a concentration on the need for sustainable design: a topic which is close to Townsend’s heart.

Inaugurated as president of the Society in June 2006, for his year at the helm he has chosen to focus on ‘The ASHRAE Promise: A sustainable future’, highlighting the Society’s efforts in raising sustainability in the built environment. “As an organisation we want to become the prime technical resource for sustainable applications worldwide,” he explains. “In order to do that we have to focus on developing tools and materials and conducting leading-edge research in the areas of our technology – heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.”

Townsend’s involvement with the Society began in his student days at Tennessee Technological University where one of his professors was future director of technology at ASHRAE, J Richard Wright. After joining the nuclear industry on his graduation he lost contact for several years, but became involved again when his career path led him into the consulting engineering profession.

“I started working with a consulting engineer that was doing a lot of energy conservation studies,” he explains. He has since started his own consulting engineering firm based in Cleveland, Tennessee and Panama, Florida.

But in addition to running his firm, Townsend has remained devoted to his involvement with ASHRAE and has received a number of recognitions for this, including the Exceptional Services Award, Distinguished Service Award and a Region VII Technology award. In his role as ASHRAE president he will invest around six man-months to the Society over the course of the year.

“ I took as my theme this year the ASHRAE Promise because there’s too many people depending on us to provide them with a future that is sustainable,” states Townsend. “It’s our duty because we’re here now…we’re all responsible for a sustainable future,” he adds.

Townsend is deeply serious about this commitment and has no intention of paying lip service to the task. Among the six ASHRAE Technical Committee’s he serves on are TC2.8 Buildings environmental impacts and sustainability and TC7.1 Integrated building design. He has also served as the Society’s representative to the ASHRAE/US Green Building Council Steering Committee and provided liaison with the National Environmental Balancing Bureau.

“The built environment provides 60% of the [world’s] CO2 emissions; our technologies for the built environment provide around 55-60% of the basis for those CO2 emissions,” he states, “That’s why our technology is so critical to the neutralisation and reversal of the process that we have right now in terms of CO2 emissions.

“Over the past few years I’ve had an opportunity to interface with organisations that deal with sustainability, like the US Green Building Council and I found out that there was a real need for technical guidance development,” he explains. “So I took that message back to ASHRAE and we are trying to develop tools so that our members can participate in these programmes because it benefits the [building] owners and the environment.”

ASHRAE is referenced in the US Green Building Council rating system and concentration for its design guides is being expanded into alternative energy systems. They will also look at the overall design of buildings. “As well as energy efficiency systems this will cover integrated building,” explains Townsend, “so it’s not just working piecemeal, but everybody works together to create the most efficient facility, that is designed, constructed and operated in the manner that it was intended in order to achieve the level of efficiency that was the design intent.”

The USA Environmental Protection Agency has recently awarded ASHRAE a funding levy to develop an indoor air quality design guide that integrates Standard 62 for commercial as well as residential applications. “This is something that can be used on a global basis,” assures Townsend.

In addition, the Society is extending its series of Advanced Energy Design Guides (AEDG) over the next few years. The first in the series was a guide for small office buildings, which provides guidance on how to achieve a level of energy efficiency that is 30% more stringent than ASHRAE Standard 90.1: 1999. A similar design guide for small retail facilities is in the final stages of printing, with schools and warehousing next to be tackled. Future planned versions of the guides will advise how to achieve 50%, then 70% of the energy targets of Standard 90.1.

“All of that reflects a march towards net zero energy use buildings, which is ASHRAE’s ultimate goal,” Townsend explains. “We call it ASHRAE 2020; what we’re saying is that by the year 2020 we’ll be providing guidance for all types of facilities on how to be a net zero carbon neutral facility. Globally,” he states.

Most of the AEDG are aimed at new construction, but plans are also underway to target existing structures. “The third area of emphasis we’re picking up is high-rise residential,” states Townsend. “The areas are really going to be done in parallel, so we’re trying to attack all of the building sectors where the greatest need exists right now on a global basis.”

For the Middle East region, those in the MEP sector can look forward to a new set of guidance that specifically considers the local environment and climate. “Our technology council is initiating a research programme to develop a design guide for hot and humid climates,” reports Townsend. “This design guide will be not only for humidity control, but will also integrate Standard 90.1; Standard 62, which covers indoor air quality; and Standard 55, which is for thermal comfort. We have also just conducted research into building envelope optimisation, so we will add that information into the design guide,” he adds.

Representatives from the Middle East Chapters and areas with similar climates will join a focus group to determine the format of the material in the publication.

“There are a lot of places around the world where you have hot and humid climates so it is really a design guide for a global audience, but it is one for an audience that is primarily focused on cooling-based versus an equilibrium between heating and cooling-based operations.

ASHRAE’S emphasis on global publications reflects the worldwide use of its documentation and it’s changing membership structure. Around 20% of the Society’s membership is now based outside North America, with this percentage increasing almost monthly.

The Society has recently formed a Globalisation Committee with the aim to serving its members more effectively. “You’re going to be seeing ASHRAE working a lot harder and applying a lot more resources to recognising the fact that the percentage of our members that reside outside of North America is growing,” assures Townsend.

“We’re trying to give our members the tools that they say they need – and we’re trying to provide it at the speed of business,” he says. “For areas that are expanding rapidly like Dubai and Kuwait they’re telling us ‘this is what we need’ and rather than waiting years for it to happen, we’re producing an advanced guide every 12 months or less.”

As well as providing area-specific design guides, ASHRAE aims to help members grow through its training and education scheme and by working with other organisations in the region to increase the technical programmes offered generally. “We’re willing to work with these other organisations in order that we can provide as strong a technical basis as possible that would benefit the members, the [building] owners and the local area through showing how to properly apply new ASHRAE technology,” he states.

All members can also look forward to new personal certification programmes being developed. These will assess and certify individuals on their capacity to perform different tasks, The first four areas being initiated are hvac&r design in healthcare facilities; building systems commissioning; building systems operation and management; and engineering for sustainability professionals. “We’re getting representative owner organisations to work with us and tell us what they need right now, so that this certification programme will be the most technically astute that is available by any organisation, but it is designed to meet the needs right now,” states Townsend.

“My objective this year is to make the ASHRAE member more valuable to the industry – that’s what we’re trying to do with this certification initiative,” he adds.

Townsend believes that MEP professionals can lead the way in creating a sustainable built environment and stresses that ASHRAE is making moves to help. It is currently undertaking the development of Standard 189P, which will provide an overall standard for sustainability. “Some People feel that it’s going to be comparable in terms of importance to Standard 90.1,” he states. “It’s setting a baseline about which buildings in order to be considered sustainable must reach.” A water conservation standard for the built environment is also under development and both this and 189P are expected to be available by the end of 2007.

Both Townsend and ASHRAE hope that such developments will push the issue of sustainability forward on a global scale, and the urgency of the matter to be properly addressed. “There is now a growing interest [in sustainability], but not necessarily a demand,” he states. “Even though people are now becoming aware that there is a global situation, this has to be addressed and it has to be addressed quickly,” he stresses.

He cites developments in photovoltaics as one area of progress that should be emulated throughout the industry. “One group claims that through nano-technology it has closely patterned the photosynthesis process and direct solar conversion and produced a coating that you can put on anything and it will convert sunshine into electricity,” he explains. “If only we had more breakthroughs like this. I feel that looking at nature and trying to emulate natural processes and natural cycles could possibly hold some of the solutions to the problems that we have.”

Townsend’s belief in finding solutions in nature partly stems from his parents. “My grandmother was Cherokee from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and my father and mother both were very heavily involved with natural processes,” he explains. “Dad tried to teach me that Mother Earth, Father Sky is the source of life and you’ve got to get yourself in tune with that…Nature has gone through a constant improvement process and if man could learn about these processes that parallel our needs – wouldn’t we be better off?

“We have to think differently in order to provide solutions to the problems that we have; there’s not one single solution, it’s too complex. It’s going to need a compilation of multiple solutions in order to keep us in the lifestyle on a global basis that we’ve become accustomed to.”

One of the current hot topics in the MEP market is the need for an energy performance rating for buildings to encourage the move towards sustainable construction. This is something that ASHRAE is undertaking in collaboration with other organisations worldwide including the UK’s Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers. “This is going to be a matrix for global application. Anybody can take it and apply it towards any building and get the same results, so they are repeatable and verifiable,” he explains. In parallel to this a carbon equivalent rating of buildings is being developed.

“We’re going to be at the leading-edge and in terms of sustainability, our technology and the guidance that we’re developing makes us the engineering for sustainability organisation. That’s our commitment to our members, to the [building] owners and to the world,” he stresses.

“We have an obligation to begin now in working towards achieving a sustainable future. We can’t wait until tomorrow because what happens is the earth has cycles and man is a weather-maker; because of man’s impact on weather and nature we have increased the natural cycle at a rate of around 15 times faster than normal,” states Townsend. “We know [nature] has a 10,000 year cycle and will always correct an imbalance and we have an imbalance now. And once nature starts the process of correction there is absolutely nothing that man can do to stop it,” he warns. “It will continue until the imbalance is corrected.

“We’re creating the imbalance, we are the only ones right now that can control that, we can neutralise it and we can reverse it, but we’ve got to start now otherwise nature will take it out of our hands.

“At the last ice age they found mammals that had been frozen so fast they still had food in their mouths. That just shows you how fast nature can act and the severity with which it can act to correct an imbalance. That’s what we’re confronted with – that knowledge. So it’s up to us now,” he concludes.

“The built environment provides 60% of the world’s CO2 emissions; [hvac] technologies provide around 55-60% of the basis for those CO2 emissions"

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