Broadening Our Horizons

Thomas Watson, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE, Life Member
2012-13 ASHRAE President

This year, ASHRAE is emphasizing that engineers and those who install and maintain new technologies are the leaders in sustainable practices in our communities. I am concentrating on how the three focal points of technology, applications and people combine to develop stronger, more sustainable communities.

Our technology needs to consider many issues: climate, culture, how people think about air conditioning, how dependent a society is on refrigeration and economics. In my community, and in every one of your communities, there are economic issues. We need to consider our resources, the technical education of the labor force and the infrastructure available. These are the challenges we face in balancing what our technology offers with what people want and what people can afford. In many cases, we have not yet achieved the balance needed to meet the needs of all of the communities throughout the world that we serve.

My personal professional interest is refrigerants.   And during my years of involvement in ASHRAE one of my focal points has been how to reduce the impact of refrigerants on the environment.

I am pleased to announce that ASHRAE is creating a voluntary refrigerant management plan, which is initially for the United States. Proper cradle to grave management is necessary to minimize the environmental impact and to ensure that suitable refrigerants are used by the HVAC &R industry to meet growing demand.

Our goals for this project are many: to track and report refrigerant use and refrigerant life cycle; to minimize environmental impact of refrigerant use; and to raise public awareness of the environmental issues and the economic impact of refrigerant use.

Another activity sponsored by ASHRAE is a joint conference held in October with the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology.  With a theme of Moving Towards Sustainability, the conference will present information on alternative low global warming potential refrigerants. Included will be hydrocarbons, R-717, R-744, HFC and HFO technologies. ASHRAE also is working on standards that allow a wider use of A2L refrigerants which have low flammability characteristics.

However, as important as new technological development is we need to keep the users in mind. We need to keep it simple. Do we really need those latest technologies in all cases? Do we need super-sophisticated solutions? Do we need complicated buildings? We need to focus on impact, making sure the advanced technology is used throughout the life of the building, not just installed as showpiece to win an award, then not be used. We need to have buildings that remain viable for years to come. We need to use innovation that works. An important issue for our industry is providing simple, affordable solutions. We need to use global expertise to meet local needs.

We all understand that we have to advance the technology to improve the built environment.  However, the operation and maintenance of these advanced systems must be simple and easy to use in order to be successful. We are a team when it comes to applying technology for the greatest good.

So what can we, as an industry, do? We need to focus on our greatest impact. We need to match the technology to the need. We need affordable regional technologies based on global expertise, and we need to benefit our communities and ourselves.

Tom Watson, P.E., Fellow Life Member, is chief engineer, Daikin McQuay, Staunton, Va. He oversees new product development for centrifugal compressor technology and is primarily involved in technical areas related to refrigerant applications, aerodynamics, bearing design and motor applications. He holds five patents related to refrigerant, gas and chiller compressors.

His ASHRAE presidential theme is Broadening ASHRAE’s Horizons, which emphasizes the role of ASHRAE members as leaders in the application of sustainable design and practices in our communities worldwide.