Commercial Building Electrification Guide

Jun 8, 2024DMA Engineering

Commercial building electrification is a growing option driven by the need for sustainability and energy efficiency. Buildings are responsible for about 28% of global CO2 emissions, with commercial buildings contributing significantly to this total. Electrification has the potential to cut these emissions by up to 70% by 2050, as more buildings transition to electric heating, cooling, and appliances.

Are you an architect or contractor working on a new building or renovation? Consider heating and cooling electrification, which allows the owner to save money, operate their building efficiently, and contribute to a sustainable future.

In this article, we’ll cover the most important considerations for commercial building electrification of heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and water temperature control.

Commercial Building Electrification Guide

Why Consider Commercial Building Electrification

There are many reasons to electrify a building rather than choosing other options like natural gas, oil, or propane. Consider these benefits of electrification. 

1. Environmental Benefits

Electrifying a commercial building allows it to operate sustainably by avoiding a reliance on scarce natural resources. Electrification reduces carbon emissions, moving the building toward net zero energy consumption.

2. Efficiency Gains

Compared to gas, oil, and propane, electrification reduces the owner’s costs over a lifetime of operation. A 15-year study of four major U.S. zones found electrification costs were much lower than other options and helped owners reach the “deep decarbonization” goal of 75% or greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Improved Air Quality

Electrification substantially improves air quality by reducing ozone emissions and fine particulate matter in the air. Gas systems also must be vented to the outside air, sending their emissions out into the environment.

4. Technological Advancements

New advances in electric heat pump technology and battery storage make electrification a viable option for many types of buildings. These advancements also lend greater cost-effectiveness to electrification.

Capital Costs and Operating Costs for Electrification

Examine the capital and operating costs of installing electric HVAC in a new building or adding it to an existing building. Here are the most important considerations in terms of your capital costs and operating expenditures.

Capital Costs
 

  • Equipment. Costs include installing new electric heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems throughout the building. They also include the costs of air or ground source heat pumps, water heaters, appliances the building will need, and any necessary controls and automation systems the owner will need to control the environment. Although electric versions of these systems may be more expensive than their gas counterparts initially, the costs will pay off in the long run.
  • Infrastructure Upgrades. Electrifying an existing building may call for upgrades to its electrical wiring and systems to account for the increased load. You may need to install additional wiring, upgrade the electrical panels, add transformers, or work with the utility company to make service upgrades to achieve a safe, efficient building-wide electrical system.
  • Building Modifications. Some building modifications may be necessary to accommodate the electric systems. Investigate which types of ductwork and ventilation accommodations will need to be included in the design.
  • Engineering and Design. Specialists, including engineers, may need to be involved to address design considerations. Ensure all modifications will meet the latest building codes and efficiency standards.
  • Permits and Inspections. Consider that electrification upgrades can come with additional permits and inspection fees that will add to the total cost of your plan.

Operating Costs

 

  • Energy Costs. The overall operating costs of an electric system will vary depending on the area’s electricity rates, its design, and how the owner operates it. In most cases, electric systems lead to significant energy savings compared to gas systems.
  • Maintenance. Electric systems tend to be lower in maintenance time and costs than gas-powered systems. Although any new equipment takes time to optimize, a properly optimized electric system will outperform a gas or propane system over time with minimal maintenance.
  • Potential Rebates and Incentives. Government programs offer rebates and incentives to give owners added benefits of electrification. When calculating capital costs, factor these savings into the total value.

Additional Considerations
 

  • Return on Investment (ROI). Natural gas may seem less expensive than electric heating on a straight cost comparison basis. However, a gas-powered building doesn’t make sense in the long run. Over time, the fluctuating costs of natural gas and the operating efficiency of electrification will tilt the scales in favor of electric heating. Factor in more than the hard costs alone. Calculate the value and return on investment (ROI) of using electric heating vs. other options.
  • Building Occupancy and Usage. The operating costs will also depend on building occupancy and usage patterns. Buildings with consistent occupancy and high energy demands are likely to see a faster return on investment through energy savings.
  • Life Cycle Cost Analysis. Prior to electrification, conduct a thorough life cycle cost analysis. First, determine the building’s energy needs and consider the capital cost of other options vs. electric heating. If it’s a new building, electrification from the outset may be easier and less costly than retrofitting an existing building from natural gas to electric heating.

 

Commercial Building Electrification Guide: The Benefits of Heat Pumps in Electrification

The Benefits of Heat Pumps in Electrification

Heat pumps work by transferring heat from the outside air or underground into your building. The pump uses the Earth’s natural temperature-moderating power to fuel the building’s heating, cooling, water temperature, and more.

Architects, builders, and building owners are choosing heat pumps because they’re highly efficient and help ensure the long-term sustainability of new and remodeled structures. More than 50,000 ground-source heat pumps are installed in the U.S. every year.

A ground-source heat pump takes advantage of the fact that the average ground temperature in the U.S. is around 45°F to 75°F. Just as an underground cave tends to stay at a stable temperature, a home or building powered by a ground-source heat pump maintains a steady temperature with little need for moderation.

Ground source heat pump benefits include:

  • Highly effective temperature control
  • Ability to power other systems, like household water and pool/spa temperature
  • Scalable from the size of a home to an entire apartment complex
  • More silent than other systems
  • Long-term environmental sustainability
  • Durable and low-maintenance
  • Relatively small physical footprint

Occupant use and comfort should be among the top considerations for your project. A heat pump can provide decades of worry-free temperature control with little to no maintenance or added cost—a major benefit for the people who will use the building for many years.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a geothermal heat pump system recoups its cost within 5 to 10 years of installation. Its lifespan is typically about 24 years for its components and 50 or more years for the system’s ground loop.

Some buildings use a ground source heat pump for most of the structure but still rely on a gas-fired heating unit in a dual-fuel system. This approach can bring flexibility and adaptability. The downside is that the building will never reach net zero.

Investigate your options with energy modeling for each configuration to weigh the full pros and cons of each choice.

 

Commercial Building Electrification Guide - The Path Forward to Electrification

The Path Forward to Electrification

Commercial building electrification is gaining momentum. Governments are implementing policies and incentives to encourage the transition. Additionally, building owners are recognizing the benefits of a more sustainable and efficient operation. This is where DMA Engineering can step in to help.

To determine if electrification is right for your building, conduct an ASHRAE Level II commercial energy audit with DMA Engineering. Our team will perform a thorough analysis of the building’s current or potential energy use including a detailed review of energy bills, equipment performance, and building systems. We’ll also use various diagnostic tools to measure and evaluate energy consumption, including an energy model, thermography, blower door testing, and infrared scanning.

You’ll receive a detailed analysis plus a list of recommended energy-saving measures to maintain energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. Learn tips for commercial building electrification, calculating capital outlays and future operating expenditures, and estimating energy savings and ROI of various options.

At DMA Engineering, we always perform an ASHRAE Level II energy audit when converting a building from natural gas to electric heating. It’s our proven process and in Denver, it’s required as part of the Energize Denver program.

Contact us today to schedule an energy audit. This comprehensive assessment will uncover opportunities to optimize your building’s performance, minimizing energy consumption and saving you money on operational costs. Your clients will thank you for a more comfortable and cost-effective space, and so will the planet for a smaller environmental footprint.

At DMA Engineering, our mission goes beyond simply ensuring efficient buildings. We’re passionate about creating resilient structures that benefit owners, occupants, and the environment. We believe in leveraging cutting-edge energy efficiency practices, innovative design solutions, and the latest technology to reimagine spaces for a brighter future.

Explore efficiency solutions for your building by contacting DMA Engineering today.