Giving energy efficiency a lift

As architects and specifiers look increasingly for zero carbon options in building design, Mark Thompson from Pickerings Lifts looks at how new lift technologies can contribute to overall carbon-neutral building performance.
Wherever you look today companies are keen to make visible their green credentials, to shareholders, customers and the broader public alike, by publicising what they are doing to reduce their impact on the environment.
In many cases, real action falls some way short of such fine words; as such businesses look to achieve carbon savings without incurring significant on-costs and so reduce their competitiveness.  In this regard, the building industry and its suppliers are no different, though from a relatively low base the momentum to achieving the holy grail of carbon-neutral performance is undoubtedly increasing.

As a designer and manufacturer of lifts for a wide range of building types, at Pickerings we see a real requirement today for energy-efficient lift performance as an essential part of the specification for prestige green building developments.  And there is little doubt that such demands will become a mainstream requirement over time, as costs come down and the pressure on all businesses to reduce their carbon footprint intensifies.  
Better lift design can make a significant contribution to improving overall building performance, as lifts can consume as much as 5% or more of a modern office block’s total energy consumption. 
And, while it is unrealistic in the foreseeable future to anticipate lifts themselves to offer zero carbon options by becoming energy self-sufficient, manufacturers have already made significant strides in improved power usage for all types of passenger and goods lifts by offering a range of low energy features.
The evolution of machine room-less lift technologies provides a particularly striking example here.  By incorporating the lifting gear and control system within the lift envelope, the need for a separate machine room is removed, substantially reducing the amount of space required
And in the latest designs, this is achieved without compromising the level of robustness or ride quality needed in hard-working commercial environments.  Further, compact gearless machinery helps reduce noise levels, improve ride quality and, as a result of broader improvements in lift equipment design, maintenance requirements have been significantly reduced.
In addition, there is an increasing demand for specialist lifts, providing tailored solutions which achieve maximum energy efficiency in individual applications by matching lift machinery to the particular loading required.
Technological developments have also impacted the production process.  In the case of modular lift design, not only are there environmental gains to be had from the fact that on-site construction time is cut from weeks to days but, as with machine room-less lifts the number of components is reduced, so improving both manufacturing and operational efficiency.
Another important area in improving energy efficiency is that of retro-fitting or upgrading existing lifts.  Replacing original equipment with the latest design motors, controllers and operating systems will deliver substantial improvements: in the case of one client, the installation has led to a saving of 40 minutes journey time per day, so impacting positively on a number of end-user environmental concerns.
The hydraulic or traction motor within a lift system is the biggest consumer of power and another area which offers potential for reducing energy usage is that of regenerative motor drives. An established technology, though not as yet adapted for economic use in the lift industry, this would enable the use of low voltage LED lighting and, by reducing the amount of heat produced, remove the need for fans within the lift car.
So is the lift industry playing its full part in delivering the energy savings required?  On the one hand, green lifts still form a small percentage of total lift sales.  Further, there is much still to be done in maximising the efficient use of energy, both in terms of lift manufacture and on-going operational use.
The reasons for this are not hard to find.  To-date, energy-efficient alternatives have typically been more expensive to manufacture, with long payback periods in terms of reduced energy costs.  As a result, in managing a typical design and build contract, compromises are then made in lift specification in order to meet inevitable price constraints.
Having said that, change is underway.  For today’s building operators and specifiers, sophisticated life-cycle modelling increasingly includes aspects of power consumption as well as cost of initial build and maintenance, in response to new social, environmental and regulatory pressures.
In turn, for lift manufacturers such as Pickerings, the drive to improve energy use is at the top of the development agenda.  The focus is on developing technologies which match simplicity with robustness, in order to reduce energy usage at each stage of the product’s life.  A typical example is the emergence of intelligent controllers that anticipate demand at different times of the day, so cutting journey times and reducing lift wear.
In the area of energy-efficient lift provision, as elsewhere in building specification and design, it is clear that standing still is no longer an option.

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