Former Vice President Al Gore spoke to an audience of more than 28,000 during the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) eighth annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, which was held Nov. 11-13 in Phoenix. In his keynote speech, the self-described “recovering politician” urged attendees to work toward an end to the United States' “ridiculous and absurd” dependence on carbon-based fuel.

With nonresidential construction spending (private and public) down 6.5 percent from September 2008, the economy certainly was on the minds of Greenbuild exhibitors. Their marketing strategies unmistakably were focused on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System projects, which are expected to generate $12.5 billion in gross domestic product between 2009 and 2013. But will this green wave bring HVAC companies to shore in a sea of economic downturn?

Nathan Rothman, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Optimum Energy LLC, developer of networked building-control applications and products, said that while he has hope for the future, he understands “old habits” could slow progress.

“It's something we experience every day as a company introducing a radical new controls approach in a relatively traditional industry,” Rothman said.

One such old habit may be an unreasonably high expectation for fast payback on high-efficiency technology. Mark MacCracken, CEO of CALMAC Manufacturing Corp., designer and manufacturer of off-peak-cooling systems utilizing thermal-energy storage, hopes the downturn will be the “death of the three-year payback” for owners. Educating owners about the intricacies of energy savings is a continuous challenge, MacCracken said.

AWARENESS IS KEY

Raising owner awareness of energy-efficient technology is so important to Johnson Controls that in the last year it launched a significant branding campaign to align itself with efficiency as well as comfort.

According to Vice President of Systems Joe Walicki, Johnson Controls has more than 500 LEED accredited professionals and 15 LEED-registered branch offices in North America. These buildings are living showcases of green products and technology. The company leverages these and other initiatives not only for branding purposes, but employee recruitment.

According to Jamie Bond, sustainability engineer for construction and project developer Skanska, a manufacturer's ability to provide quality training to young engineers can have a significant influence on whether its products get specified. Bond said that she, like many recent college graduates, finds herself in a commercial-construction career immersed in LEED. With little time to research all of the latest products, she and her colleagues rely on established companies to keep them up to speed on the latest HVAC technologies.

According to Vice President of Americas Marketing Maureen J. Lally, Trane Inc. has focused many of its efforts on educating owners, particularly about building life-cycle analysis.

“We have very specific programs that are targeting owners at the executive level, state level, and facilities level and also working with architects, engineers, and contractors — the building community,” Lally said.

Trane's programs not only are extensive, they are multi-generational. An example is the company's BTU Crew program, which provides to schools in-depth and interactive lessons on energy efficiency, including an energy audit and environmental-impact assessment.

INNOVATION FACTOR

All of this is not to say that only household names will dominate the green-HVAC market. Take chilled-beam technology, for instance. With the help of companies such as Greenbuild exhibitor SEMCO Inc., the U.S. chilled-beam market has grown to an estimated $20 million-plus in six years.

EnOcean GmbH, manufacturer of battery-less radio sensors, has quadrupled its U.S. business over the last 12 months, which Graham Martin, chairman and CEO of the EnOcean Alliance, a consortium of companies “dedicated to the advancement of self-powered interoperable wireless building control systems,” attributes to increased awareness of energy efficiency and carbon footprint in the United States, which he said lags several decades behind Europe, where energy prices are much higher.

Daryn Cline, senior manager of environmental technologies for Evapco Inc., designer and manufacturer of products for the evaporative-cooling and industrial-refrigeration markets, sees the green-building movement and LEED as a chance for HVAC companies to push the envelope.

“It's a huge opportunity for companies to look for new ways to re-engineer and re-apply their products for greater energy efficiency,” Cline said.

There was no shortage of companies at Greenbuild willing to discuss how their products reduce fuel consumption — even before Gore's speech urging attendees to help end the United States' “ridiculous and absurd” dependence on carbon-based fuel.

“We have all the tools we need to solve three or four climate crises,” Gore said.

If that is the case, many of those tools are in the hands of HVAC manufacturers.

Send news items to the attention of Scott Arnold, executive editor, HPAC Engineering, The Penton Media Building, 1300 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, OH 44114-1503; e-mail: scott.arnold@penton.com; fax: 913-514-6315. Electronic submissions are preferred.