Chris King

Bosch, known for its high quality German designed products, is moving parts of its Australian operations out of automotive manufacturing and into the growing field of buildings and energy efficiency, predicting the sector will soon comprise a 30-40 per cent share of its business.

The company recently launched a new HVAC optimisation system, BAOPT, which it says reduces power use by up to 40 per cent with minimal capital spend.

Chris King, formerly a design engineer with GHD, Bioregional One Planet sustainability integrator and sessional teacher in building energy modelling at the University of Melbourne , was appointed manager of the new Bosch Energy and Building Solutions division earlier this year.

It’s another “post manufacturing, manufacturing transition story”, Mr King told The Fifth Estate.

Bosch regarded the sector as a growth area and part of the future of engineering, he said. Australia  had particular strengths in the sector, with strong knowledge based industries and expertise in dealing with extreme climate, which made it good testing and development ground for HVAC systems.

“People don’t realise this,” Mr King said. “The automotive sector and now increasingly the building sector is a huge employer of mechanical engineers.”

The BAOPT system had already been installed in more than 40 buildings around Australia, including Bundoora Art Gallery, Box Hill Aquatic Centre, Deakin University Waurn Ponds and Waterfront campuses, Wodonga Arts Precinct, Icehouse at Docklands and Shepparton Art Gallery.

The system comprises a room pressurisation system created by a differential pressure sensor and motorised dampers, combined with variable speed drive air handling units and a software package developed by Bauer, a firm Bosch acquired in 2013. The software reduces the velocity of AHU fans by up to 90 per cent and controls the activity of the dampers which regulate pressure.

Mr King said the air speed could be reduced while still ensuring comfort because pressurising the space removes the stratification effect that occurs in unpressurised spaces.

Given many heating, ventilation and airconditioning systems already include variable speed AHUs, in many cases all that needs to be physically installed is one differential pressure sensor costing under $1000 per room, or two sensors for a very large open-plan floorplate, and extra motorised dampers. The only other cost element is the software, which Mr King said makes this a very low capital spend way of achieving a major improvement in energy efficiency.

“Because you are not replacing chillers or similar, there is not a lot of capital spend and a huge operational energy saving,” he said.

A bolt on solution

The system relies on having a well-sealed building and can be combined with a mixed-mode HVAC system that incorporates a natural ventilation mode.

In Europe and the UK, where the system has already been installed in more than 1600 buildings including Hanover Airport and Cologne Airport, well-sealed buildings are a requirement of the building code. Mr King said it would not be long before the Australian code follows suit.

The system also resolves one of the main issues with airconditioning systems related to the shifting pressure and temperature zones due to natural temperature stratifications interacting with the outflow of air from AHUs. In larger spaces such as museums or sporting facilities with high ceilings, this can result in the need for extremely high velocity flows so the required air temperature is reached down near floor level and this, Mr King said, uses considerable energy.  By creating constant pressure, constant temperature is also achieved.

“Low velocity airflow also means lower maintenance for fans, because they are not working as hard.

“I think this system will be in every building within three to five years. At the moment, everyone is fixated on chilled beams and underfloor distribution systems, but these are expensive and as soon as you want to change the configuration of the fit-out, you have trouble.

“The advantage of this is it’s a bolt-on. You keep all the existing ductwork, and it works even if the building load increases, which they do tend to as computers get bigger and more staff work in a space.”

The company is using Australian-manufactured dampers, and is also considering local manufacture of the pressure sensor units.

A perfect storm is brewing – and it’s not the weather

“If you take out the climate change argument, there’s this perfect storm brewing about energy efficiency in terms of cost,” Mr King said.

The combination of mandatory disclosure of NABERS, increased commercial office vacancy rates and increased prices for energy, is tipping prospective tenants towards choosing an upmarket office space which also has a high NABERS rating.

“Energy efficiency is an economic argument.

“Regulations [around mandatory disclosure], energy costs and vacancy rates are not going to change.”

Bosch was currently considering a major $40 million redevelopment of its Clayton headquarters, which is home to manufacturing operations including a globally-exporting power diode business, automation electronics and safety systems for the auto industry. The automotive division had scaled back from 1800 employees to less than 800 people, and the majority of product is exported rather than used in locally-manufactured vehicles.

Charitable trust

The company is only eight per cent owned by the founder, Robert Bosch. The balance is owned by a charitable trust, which means it has the capacity to adopt long term views in relation to its investment in research and innovation. Earnings are not retained, but are paid to the trust.