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[ECO]Design our future

Imagine a desert landscape, with vast clearings extending to the horizon. The earth is tinged a red copper colour, and all around there is oppressive silence among the steep rocky slopes, almost recalling an ancient civilisation. Even though this description has nothing to do with the Earth as we know it today, and resembles more what we know about Mars, it is a way of illustrating what our planet may look like a few hundred years from now. The drama I have just described is not based on political ideologies or moralism, but rather an objective view given the present situation. Awareness and sensitivity of human impact on the environment have increased considerably in recent years. Ever since the first treaty signed in 1972 in Stockholm, where we began to discuss the evidence of human actions on nature, until the most recent agreements in Paris and Bonn, we have been marking a course aimed at preventing mankind’s extinction at its own doing. The Ecodesign concept is part of this course, a conscious and responsible approach that aims to guarantee the design of products whose environmental impact product throughout its life cycle (cradle-to-cradle) is controlled, measured and minimised, while continuing to guarantee the highest levels of performance and safety.

Ecodesign is not a simple set of regulations intended to guarantee certain levels of care for the environment, but rather a true design philosophy. This need arises from the growing awareness that industrialisation, overpopulation and pollution, as well as limited resources, are unfavourable factors for environmental sustainability. Hence the raising awareness of greater respect for the resources we have has triggered a process by which rather than “remedy”, we are trying to “prevent”, i.e. shifting from limiting the damage of a threat to almost completely avoiding potential hazards, right from the design stage. Such ethics do not arise spontaneously in the minds of designers, and thus in the free market it is necessary to adopt regulations to ensure that new products achieve specific levels of performance. The first European directive on environmentally-sustainable design dates back to 2005, and involved all energy-using products. Subsequently it was also extended to all energy-related products. Products are classified into categories, called “lots”, based on their typical function. Depending on the lot, there is a regulation that defines the minimum standard that the product must be able to guarantee in terms of efficiency and performance.

An electronic device with frequency or speed variation, commonly called an inverter, is used in HVAC/R to modulate cooling capacity, thus guaranteeing higher performance and saving energy. While a fixed set point ON/OFF compressor is activated when the ambient conditions are outside of the “comfort zone”, a variable-capacity compressor can adjust its operation in response to the required thermal load. The main advantage comes directly from the fact that the compressor will almost never work at maximum rated capacity and therefore its energy usage is significantly reduced. The real technological advancement that made it possible to increase efficiency and eliminate waste was the introduction of DC compressors that, together with a VSD (variable speed drive), gave a major boost to the HVAC/R market.

Currently, the Ecodesign directive only applies to electric motors, as established in Regulation 640/2009, which specifies the efficiency values that must be guaranteed based on the device’s power rating. 
As far as VSDs are concerned, no action is required other than the possibility of certifying the combination of inverter plus compressor, with the result that the system has a lower level of efficiency.
Today, a new draft standard is being evaluated that will also introduce the concept of efficiency standards for VSDs, and in particular increase the above-mentioned thresholds for electric motors.
In the new proposed directive, electric motors and VSDs will come under lot 30. The main difference from the previous and the current versions is that it will no longer be possible to conceive the system as a “bundle”, but rather the efficiency measurements will concern the motors and inverters separately.  In addition, the 375-1000 kW category has been included among the products covered by Ecodesign, while all devices with a power rating higher than 1000 kW will remain outside of its scope.
Below is a brief summary that compares the specifications of the two regulations:

The above refer to actual legislation. On the other hand, there are several implementing regulations that explain how to make the measurements and classify the devices. One example is IEC 61800-9, an international standard for the definition of efficiency indicators, methodologies for determining losses, engine efficiency classes of power drives and motors, limit values and procedures. For example, it is worth noting that:

  • For a device with efficiency reference value IE1 (International Energy Efficiency class), if in measurement conditions losses exceed 25% compared to the maximum value envisaged by class IE1, it will be downgraded;
  • If, on the other hand, the measured losses are less than 25%, it will be upgraded to a higher class.

It is undeniable that the transition between the two regulations will certainly have positive effects for the end user, who will have available a high-performance product that wastes less energy, and for the environment, as the result is a reduction in equivalent CO2 emissions. While for manufacturers, there will be a race to adapt to the regulations so as to guarantee their place on the market.
For now, Ecodesign is mainly intended for products that are sold in the European Union, which limits its effectiveness. However, products with a low environmental impact are now essential for Western consumers, and this is symptomatic of the fact that environmental sustainability is becoming widely accepted as a principle. 

Will technology and design be able to follow the trends of legislation and especially consumers, or will we see another “Dieselgate”?


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