Grace Foo, M.AIRAH
Coming to us by way of Malaysia’s tropical climate – where humidity, she notes, is easily 80–95 per cent, 365 days a year – Grace Foo, M.AIRAH, considers herself a generalist with a focus on forward-looking solutions development across the asset life-cycle.
Growing up, the amount of cooling energy and air conditioning costs it took to cool buildings such as shopping malls never crossed Foo’s mind.
“Because energy costs are not commoditised in Malaysia, there was no natural market driver for energy efficiency – it all came down to technical drivers,” she says. “It’s certainly very different to what it is like in Australia.”
Foo is principal consultant at DeltaQ, a boutique start-up energy management and sustainability consultancy. DeltaQ focuses on short- to long-term carbon and energy strategy development; energy efficiency upgrade implementation and verification; and government policy research and analysis.
In the past year, she has coordinated interdisciplinary teams to conduct research into energy policy and the future direction of the Australian Building Code towards a net zero future; and developed five to 15-year carbon-neutral roadmaps incorporating energy procurement.
What’s your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
Watching a crane lift up a chiller plant and boiler replacement in Canberra to improve the building's NABERS rating. We were a bit cautious about the wind speeds and direction on the day, but no chillers got blown away, so I think we were all good!
I loved seeing how seamlessly the team worked – the shrink-wrapped new magnetic bearing chillers and condensing boilers on the trailer being lifted by the crane to the roof and rigging to move the chillers into place, all in a very tight plant room space. We also cut up the old boilers (with asbestos) and chillers for removal from the building. Watching the team work together was fascinating.
Winning an award in 2016 from the Energy Efficiency Council for Young Energy Efficiency Professional was also a highlight in my career. It definitely spurred me on to continue making a difference in this industry.
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
Smart buildings and grids are the future. We will transition to a decarbonised grid that incorporates decentralised energy generation; net zero energy and efficiency will be back in play again (as emissions will be zero at that point); and the optimisation of building controls will consider human comfort due to IoT sensors providing better data on health and wellness.
We will change our way of working to be more flexible. Office fit-outs, layouts, and the seating of occupants will match different occupant comfort levels at lower occupant density. Building services – including HVAC&R equipment design, sizing, and controls – will need to match this change. Refrigerants will be zero GWP.
As we get more interconnected and data movement becomes more fluid, cyber-security will become increasingly important even in non-military applications. At the moment, we are pretty lax in this area in HVAC&R.
I would love to see more female tradespersons – hopefully in much less time than 100 years. If I ever walk into a site meeting for a construction or building tuning project with more females than males, this would be a major success in terms of achieving gender diversity within HVAC&R.
What’s something everyone should know about you, your work, or the HVAC&R industry?
My favourite part about the work that I do now is the variety I get to dabble in. I enjoy the challenge of the solutions development and having to make the solution future-looking also keeps me on my toes.
Solutions development is a balance of technical and stakeholder interaction. We all know that change doesn't happen with purely technical solutions.
To make change sustainable, it requires consultation with the various stakeholders involved across the full life-cycle of an asset (financial, construction, operation, maintenance), as well as persuasion and negotiation by communicating in a language that the stakeholder understands.
Being forced to interact with a variety of stakeholders with different communication styles and drivers has definitely kept me grounded in the work that I do.
I have also learnt that policy drives investment – so I am chuffed to contribute to the future direction of government policy while keeping boots on the ground for refurbishment and construction projects.
Outside of work, I continually wreck my knees with my running club and netball teams. I also volunteer with the Vinnies Night Patrol Program, coordinating a team of people in Canberra to go out on the streets offering conversation, hot drinks, food, and emergency supplies such as warm clothes/blankets.
I love anything cute and furry. Sadly, my fur pets have passed away, so I'm only left with a chook that I take out for walks.