A new program by a Northern Illinois utility is introducing underused energy efficient technologies to the HVAC industry.

Northern Illinois Gas  (Nicor Gas) serves more than 2.2 million customers in 646 communities in Northern Illinois. Its “Emerging Technology Program” (ETP) — part of its ongoing Energy Efficiency Program — selects and assesses promising new technologies that have the potential to realize natural gas savings for Nicor Gas customers.

The ETP focuses on technologies that are new to the market or have not yet achieved broad market adoption. After initial pilot assessments, the technologies are evaluated, to determine if they should be added to the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program.

“The Emerging Technology Program segment of the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program has been in operation about a year and a half. We spent a good deal of time designing the program in its first half year, and about a year ago we started selecting our first pilot projects,” says Doug Kosar, manager of the ETP implementation contractor team at the Gas Technology Institute.

“Most energy efficiency programs don’t have a companion Emerging Technology Program, Kosar explains. “The ETP is basically there to encourage manufacturers and vendors to submit commercially available new or underused products or processes that promise energy efficiency — in particular natural gas savings —for Nicor gas customers.”

How it Works
As ETP learns of new energy efficient products or processes, it selects the most promising of those, in conjunction with Nicor Gas, and conducts field assessments to validate the therm/natural gas savings. Then, those new technologies, products, or processes are considered for incorporation as new, incentivized measures in the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program.

Nicor Gas customer pilot sites must be located within Nicor Gas service territories. Customers in Nicor Gas service territories can and have offered their homes or businesses as host sites for pilot project assessment activity.

Who can apply:

  • Any manufacturer or vendor of a new product or practice that has the potential to realize natural gas savings for Nicor Gas customers.
  • Any product or practice for residential, commercial or industrial applications.
  • Applicants need not be Nicor Gas customers.
  • Pilot assessments must be conducted at Nicor Gas customer sites.
  • Proposed products and practices must be in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations.
  • Transportation-related technologies (e.g., natural gas vehicles) and on-site fuel switching technologies (e.g., combined heat and power systems) are not eligible at this time.

If an applicant is selected for a pilot assessment, the Nicor Gas Emerging Technology Program will provide:

  • Assessment-related technical consulting, design and engineering assistance.
  • Customer incentives for equipment and installation, depending on project specifics.
  • Monitoring and data collection to demonstrate savings.
  • Project summary of results when the pilot assessment is complete.

Pilot technologies that establish promising therm savings in the Nicor Gas service territory will be considered for rebate offerings in the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program.

Contractors can learn more about the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program and its offerings by visiting the Nicor Gas website, at www.nicorgasrebates.com/

Currently, Nicor Gas has selected nine promising technologies now in various stages of pilot assessment activities. They are:

  1. High efficiency commercial heating, specifically condensing heating technology applied to rooftop heating equipment. “We’re doing that in conjunction with big box stores that often practice dedicated outside air system approaches to bringing ventilation air into their buildings,” Kosar explains. “This is something of an early market entry point for condensing heating technology, which is now commonplace in homes, and a multitude of interior applications. We’re breaking new ground with manufacturers and contractors in bringing condensing heating technology into rooftop equipment applications.”
  2. The use of ozone in lieu of hot water and detergents to clean laundry items. “In this case, instead of a higher efficiency gas process, we’re using ozone to displace the use of natural gas to generate hot water,” Kosar explains.
  3. On-demand control hot water domestic circulation pumps. “Typically, pumps in domestic hot water recirculation systems in multi-family buildings operate 24/7. However, new controls that have emerged that have determined when there is a demand for hot water, and initiate pump operation on demand. This provides savings in hot water, natural gas, and electricity,” he says.
  4. WiFi-enabled thermostats that implement energy saving steps using automated, incremental heating (and cooling)setbacks, with the allowance for end user or homeowner overrides if they feel they’re experiencing any discomfort. The thermostat “learns” the preferences of the homeowner and maximizes savings while maintaining comfort.
  5. Combined space and water heating systems that use a single thermal engine — a tankess water heater — to provide domestic hot water but also hot water via hydronic heating coil for space heating.  Kosar says this basically involves using one single gas train and single thermal engine to provide both hot water and space heating for a home.
  6. An industrial wireless steam trap monitoring system. Kosar says steam traps and their failure lead to a high amount of lost steam in industrial systems. “This technology monitors the status of the steam traps. When they fail, the system notifies the maintenance department at industrial facilities to change out the steam trap,” he says.
  7. Air curtain systems in shipping/receiving areas.
  8. A modulating valve retrofit for commercial clothes driers that are used in launder-mat, healthcare, or hotel operations. It incorporates a two-stage burner operation in what is typically a single-stage burner operation. “There’s a significant amount of gas heat wasted in clothes drying process since you can’t stage the firing of the heating system,” Kosar explains.
  9. Electronic boiler controls. This goes beyond the usual outside air boiler reset control, and is a learning control that monitors the demand for water from boiler systems and basically develops an automated response so that it doesn’t fire the boiler unless there’s a genuine demand.

Kosar says the Energy Efficiency Program is an additional sales opportunity for HVAC manufacturers, in that the ETP provides a proving ground for new products and processes.
“It’s the primary path for new products or processes to get incorporated as new measures in the energy efficiency program,” he explains. “We’re a funnel through which the new ideas come into the ETP, are evaluated, and passed on to the energy efficiency program. If the Energy Efficiency Program adopts them as new measures, it obviously opens up new markets for the manufacturers.”

For HVAC contractors, Kosar says the EEP would ultimately provide new or expanded lines of energy efficient business. He says contractors can get involved on the ground floor by participating in “Trade Ally Groups,” which are operated by the EEP. The Trade Ally Groups bring together manufacturers, contractors, end users and others, to help facilitate the opening of a new energy efficiency market opportunity.

“These could be focused on certain sectors, such as commercial food service or residential technology, or other commercial technologies. It can bring all stakeholders together and facilitate new lines of business for contractors,” Kosar says.

Once new energy efficient technologies start to proliferate, Trade Ally contractors can become participating installers.

“The Emerging Technology Program can be a launching pad for contractors to become involved early on,” Kosar adds. “They can participate in pilot assessments, and be among the first to learn about new products and processes, and how to size, select, install more energy efficient equipment.

As a Nicor Gas trade ally — and one that has been recognized for highly-effective energy efficiency projects — DRF Trusted Property Solutions was asked by Gas Technology Institute (GTI) to participate in a test of Enovative’s D’MAND CIRC recirculation pump.  DRF partnered with GTI to choose a multi-family property in the Chicago area for installation of the pump.  The four-story building included 54 residential units. Installation was complete in November of 2012. 

“Working with GTI and Enovative Kontrol Systems allowed us the opportunity to learn about a new energy savings product that we can bring to properties in the Chicago area,” explains Scott Schnurr, president of DRF Trusted Property Solutions.  “Partnering for a product test is a great way for contractors to gain first-hand knowledge of energy efficiency solutions that are valuable to our customers and our environment,” he says. 

Contractors can learn more about the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program and its offerings by visiting the Nicor Gas website, at www.nicorgasrebates.com/.

Geographically, any manufacturer can apply to bring a technology into the Nicor Gas service territory. However, contractors must have a presence in the Nicor Gas service territory, since that’s where the energy efficiency program incentives are applied to Nicor Gas customers. If contractors are servicing Nicor Gas customers, Kosar encourages them to become active in the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program.

Kosar says early involvement by contractors in the ETP can help them manage the new technology learning curve ahead of competitors by understanding new energy efficiency technologies faster than other contractors. Examples he gives are condensing units, combination systems, and on-demand central hot water systems.

“In the case of condensing units, we’re facing perceptions in the market place—there’s concern about dealing with combustion condensate in a freezing rooftop environment. It’s actually quite straightforward to bring combustion condensate down inside the roof curb into the conditioned space, with as vertical a drop as possible, and convey that condensate in the conditioned space to a code approved sanitary sewer connection. In some local codes, there may be a requirement for neutralization. And so we can, in conjunction with our participating contractors, help them understand proper sizing, selection, and installation of neutralization systems that may be needed. Some of this is unfamiliar to them. So, we help establish what you could call “best practices” with contractors in pilot assessments we conduct in the ETP.”

With combination systems — those using a single thermal engine such as a tankless water heater or small boiler — Kosar says, one of the keys to achieving maximum efficiency is by proper selection of a hydronic heating coil, and the temperature delivered from hot water to that space heating coil.

“You need to maintain that at the proper temperature level, to maintain condensing efficiency levels in the tankless water heater that’s providing hot water for the hydronic coil and space heating. Then, there are some unfamiliar controls: you have a domestic hot water priority to the control system that’s used in combination systems: when there’s a demand for hot water, that’s given priority over the space heating hot water requirement.

With on-demand central hot water systems, Kosar says pilot assessments showed the importance of correctly locating the return of the temperature feedback sensors, so that hot water delivery is satisfactory for tenants. “We now know the low temperature point in the return loop that should dictate the operation of the on demand pump.” He says.

Current technologies being tested in the Nicor Gas Emerging Technology Program, and their major energy-saving advantages

  • High-efficiency, condensing heating commercial rooftop units: Up to 2,200 therms saved in dedicated outside air system applications in “big box” retail stores
  • Demand controls for multi-family central domestic hot water systems: Up to 65 therms saved per apartment unit compared to continuous pump operation
  • Industrial wireless steam trap monitoring system: Up to 30%  therm savings through real-time detection of failed traps
  • Commercial ozone laundry systems: Up to 5,000 therms saved in a medium-sized hotel
  • Combined residential space and water heating systems: Up to 120 therms saved per single family home
  • Commercial/industrial air curtains: Up to 4,000 therms saved in typical distribution warehouse application
  • Residential home energy management through internet-connected thermostat: Up to 160 therms saved in a single family home
  • Modulating valve retrofit for commercial clothes dryers: Up to 300 therms saved in a medium-sized hotel
  • Electronic controls for boilers:Up to 15% therm savings in boiler gas use.

Terry McIver is executive editor of ContractingBusiness.com. Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryMcIver