Paul Bannister, F.AIRAH
Paul Bannister, F.AIRAH, has led a career predicated on improving energy efficiency in buildings, especially energy related to HVAC.
He has been working in the energy field since he started his PhD in 1988 in the field of solar thermal power. After finishing his thesis, he moved into energy efficiency – wanting to work in a field providing more immediate results.
A former president of the Australasian branch of the International Building Performance Simulation Association and erstwhile AIRAH Board Director, he has also presented at many conferences in Australia and globally. Bannister is a two-time winner of the WR Ahern (2015 and 2018) for best technical paper in Ecolibrium, AIRAH's industry journal.
Among his many achievements, Bannister was heavily involved in the development of the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating System which grew up to become NABERS; established his own high-profile energy management consultancy – Exergy – which he eventually sold; and was lead developer of the 2019 update of Section J (Energy Efficiency) of the Australian Building Code.
Bannister now works as the director of innovation at DeltaQ, an organisation partnering with clients to manage all aspects of their energy concerns.
What brought you to the HVAC&R industry?
Chance, mainly! I didn’t go into energy efficiency thinking, “Gosh, I want to work in buildings”. And indeed, I thought I was more likely to be working within industrial processes. But the energy efficiency industry in the 1990s was even more biased towards the built environment than it is now, so I found myself working with buildings. My first boss was an HVAC engineer, so our work was very HVAC-focused, and he also got me working with buildings simulation very early on, and thus the die was cast.
Funnily enough I remember when I was studying solar energy that my colleagues and I would look at the Solar Energy Society’s buildings group and scratch our collective heads and ask: What could possibly be so interesting about buildings? The answer turns out to be the amazing complexity and interactivity of what is, from a physical perspective, a semi-closed system. Certainly, my PhD supervisor’s ignorant comment regarding my move to energy efficiency – “It won't be very intellectually stimulating or challenging” – has been proven wrong a thousand times over!
What's your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
I have had many great experiences in the industry: seeing NABERS drive office building energy efficiency to completely unimagined levels must stand out as the best. I have also had some shockers, with appalling, unloved and sometimes unsafe buildings. My favourite horror story was a building in Sydney where we had been doing a visual comfort survey and the most common compliant was stinging eyes. On inspection we found that the outside air intake was covered in a 5cm thick layer of pigeon sh*t.
However, my favourite geeky moment was walking out of an overcooled hotel room in Darwin and having my glasses fog up: this was when I really started to appreciate psychrometrics.
How long have you been a member of AIRAH?
I joined in about 2003.
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
That’s a hard question, and I make no pretences to being a fortune teller! However, if we assume that the Internet of Things trend continues to develop, we will see a trend towards smarter componentry that to some extent self-organises, optimises and diagnoses, gradually bypassing the somewhat haphazard commissioning process and changing how we do maintenance. Automated Fault Diagnosis packages are just the beginning of this, and will rapidly evolve in ways that go beyond anything we have sight of currently. Off-site manufacture will also drive this, as it means that we can put a higher level of skill and precision into manufacture.
I’d like to think that one of the things that will happen is that solid-state technologies such as Peltier effect diodes, which produce active cooling in response to electric current, achieve sufficient efficiency to become a realistic larger-scale technology.
More mundanely, we will see fully integrated systems such as VRF (virtual routing and forwarding) taking a larger share of the market, not necessarily to the advantage of the HVAC design profession. In general, I’d observe that the history of disruption suggests that the technology path will tend towards the mass market moving technology ever further out of the hands of professionals.
On the other end of the spectrum though, the integrated supervision of thousands of mass-market modular HVAC systems may provide new opportunities for active grid management that facilitiates the greening of the electricity grid.
One last prediction: Unless the gas grid finds a way to decarbonise, we will cease using natural gas in buildings within the next 20 years.