Long and Winding Road to Higher Efficiency-The RTU Story: Preprint

Michael Deru, Miles Hayes, Katie Vrabel, Carly Burke, Amy Jiron, Cedar Blazek

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Rooftop units (RTUs) and other packaged heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment consume more than four quads of energy annually while conditioning more than 50% of the commercial building floor area in the United States. Historically, these systems have low operating efficiencies and receive infrequent maintenance. In addition, the market has a low first cost, run-to-failure, like-for-like replacement mentality and has been slow to adopt change. This paper explores the broad market transformation that has resulted in higher efficiencies and tremendous energy savings. Although there are many factors in this market transformation, this paper highlights: research behind advancements in components and controls; adoption of an operational efficiency metric; raising the bar for high efficiency with the RTU Challenge; market barriers overcome through the Advanced RTU Campaign; upstream and midstream incentive programs and HVAC distribution networks; alignment of the market efficiency drivers of ASHRAE Standard 90.1, federal minimum efficiency standards, the ENERGY STAR® program, and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency's (CEE's) efficiency tiers. Measures of the market transformation include more than 50% increase in RTU efficiencies, more than 1 billion kWh saved and 160,000 RTUs upgraded with high-efficiency measures by the Advanced RTU Campaign partners, large increases of high-efficiency RTUs purchased through incentive programs, and the largest energy savings from any federal minimum standards action. Although these results are impressive, the market transformation is just beginning, and there remain exciting opportunities for improvements in equipment efficiencies and improved operating performance with advanced controls and fault detection and diagnostics.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2021
Event2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings -
Duration: 17 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


Conference2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-77092


  • advanced RTU campaign
  • commercial buildings
  • HVAC
  • market transformation
  • rooftop unit
  • RTU


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