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Barriers to Energy Efficiency

There are a large number of barriers to energy efficient improvements in laboratories. The main barriers, identified at a US Labs21 workshop, are as as applicable to the UK as the US. They include:

-Standard design practices are based on old technologies or inaccurate assumptions. These include: sizing air-side pressure drops for a fixed static pressure; sizing water systems for a fixed amount of head; using high coil and filter face velocities.

-Considerable emphasis is placed on system first cost although lower first cost may result in higher life-cycle costs. Design teams need to consider life-cycle costs, which often justify higher-first-cost, energy-efficient equipment.

-Time and priority need to be given to working out new, nontraditional designs. Energy-efficient designs may require additional staff time or consultants.

-The conservative facility building culture often resists new ideas. Innovators carry a heavy burden to prove the efficacy of new design concepts; in addition, designers may risk legal consequences if the laboratory's operation does not meet design specifications/design basis documents.

-Benchmarking of energy costs is lacking. If an existing facility does not already track what it costs to operate each component, management has little information on which to base decisions about possible improvements in energy use.

-Size limitations for code requirements may adversely affect environmental conditioning system designs. For example, limiting the height of the penthouse where the air handlers are located may prevent optimal configurations of systems.

-Inadequate space may be available for energy-efficient equipment. Currently, the architect often designs the facility and then tells the engineers how much space they have. Early cooperation among design team members is necessary to devise optimum configurations.

-Performance envelope specifications may limit possibilities for energy efficiency. When the performance envelope or operating range of the facility can be expanded—for example, increasing the allowable relative humidity—lower first costs and operational energy costs may result. Owners and occupants need to clearly understand the impacts that design tolerances have on facility energy performance.

-Designers who are familiar with energy-efficiency concerns in laboratory-type environments are in short supply.