Systemair is a leading ventilation company with operations in 50 countries. The South African operation started manufacturing locally in 2014, producing fans, rooftops, air handling units and accessories. Managing Director Vincent Laidet tells us more about how to minimise one’s energy costs…

When building or renovating, how important is it to factor in the operational costs on an installation?

Today more than ever before, we look at the life cycle costs of a building or installation. The products that we supply to the market – across residential, commercial and mixed-use – will have a lifespan that varies between 10 and 20 years. When we look at the electrical consumption of these products, the initial cost, the Capex, becomes insignificant compared to the operating costs involved. So, when building or renovating, we see that energy-efficient solutions can play a great role in reducing these operational costs, often up to 40 to 50%.

If you look at the ventilation industry specifically, you have two quite distinguishable technologies – AC-operated ventilators and EC-operated ventilators. The difference in energy consumption between the two is about 40%, on the product itself. We also need to bear in mind that a product can be very efficient, but installed into an inefficient system. These factors all need to be considered when designing or renovating a building.

What proportion of these costs relate to energy consumption?

The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system in any building-receiving people is the largest consumer of energy, and can make up approximately 40-60% of the electricity bill. When looking at costs related to energy consumption, the least efficient building, for example, might consume close to 200w/m², while an energy efficient building might only consume 30w/m², or even be completely passive, not requiring any energy in order to maintain a good indoor temperature or air quality. So the difference is enormous. On paper, we design green buildings to be efficient on the hottest day in summer and on the coldest day in winter. But then there’s also the question of how good the building is at adapting to climate change – outdoor conditions and indoor occupation. And so we start looking more and more at a control system which can adapt the use of the HVAC system to the building’s use; and perhaps even be able to anticipate the use in order to flatten the electricity demands.

What are the most important interventions building designers can make to minimise energy costs in the context of total cost of ownership?

When renovating, the main question is first, how can we reduce any waste of energy; or perhaps, how can we produce the least possible amount of energy to host a good indoor environment? So if we can benefit already from things outdoors – the right amount of sun, the right amount of fresh air coming into the building, while at the same time having controlled exposure, that is a good first step. Then there is insulating the building, so we shift towards the right amount of energy being produced and keeping it where it is useful, so that includes isolating the building from the outdoor environment and being sure that filtered air – warm air, cool air – goes to the right place at the right time. Then it’s about looking at having the right installation; for example, there’s no point in having 300 rooms air-conditioned when only one is in use.

Clean air has an impact on health and productivity, and this applies across the board. As we spend more and more time indoors, it’s critical that the air is of an extremely high quality, and this comes down to not only the design of the building but also its operation and maintenance.

Most electrical costs in commercial buildings relate to meeting the human health and comfort standards for buildings, how does one reduce energy consumption and cost without compromising indoor environmental quality?

Reducing energy consumption doesn’t mean that we have to reduce or compromise the indoor air quality; it really means that we have to adjust the system and its load according to the needs. So the need doesn’t really change at all, but, say for example when looking at the HVAC, we can look at how dynamic the system can be. In hotels and shopping centres, where you have a lot of people coming in and out, a very reactive system is needed that can understand the use of the building and can predict human behavior; and adjust accordingly. That is where the BMS (Building Management System) of an HVAC plays an important part, for the HVAC to learn from its experience. We have weather forecasts, building usage forecasts, and from that we can predict the right indoor air temperature, humidity, air quality and so on.
Energy efficiency would in a sense contribute to the indoor air quality because a system that is not efficient does not have the same capability to adjust to the building’s use. Having the right system, products and controls aims to give building owners the flexibility to reduce their electricity bill, but also boost the comfort of its occupants.

How can working with Systemair be of value to the design team in these respects?

Systemair as a group owns all of its production facilities and researches and develops its own products according to the current needs of the market. We invest heavily into our capacity to provide the right products for today and tomorrow’s needs, priding ourselves in being at the forefront of energy efficiency. From the South African perspective, we are directly present here with our recently increased manufacturing footprint and are one of the only companies that can supply a complete range of products for residential, commercial or industrial application, covering every letters of the word HVAC. We understand what energy efficiency is; we understand the challenges of operating a building and can offer a tailor-made solution. The benefit of working with Systemair is having a partner for one’s complete requirements – we have complete expertise over the full system and differentiate ourselves by providing the right solution for the each building we work with.