A Rising Trend: Green Elevator Initiatives

By Jon Sedey

The development of the elevator opened up the discovery of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. People, along with goods and services were able to reach new heights never seen before. “Vertical transportation” was now possible and forever changed the urban fabric. Instead of building out, cities were building up to conserve space and local resources. However, as green initiatives become an integral part of today’s development projects, elevator companies are implementing strategies to retrofit current elevators into green and attractive spaces.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator suggests reconfiguring the elevator operation by switching to current motor generator equipment and modern drives. Elevator drives are responsible for the acceleration, deceleration and position and are typically run by converting alternating current power into direct current power. Current alternating power technology lets elevators perform the same functions—all without the additional conversion step—thus saving wasted energy. According to Sasha Bailey, Sustainability Manager at ThyssenKrupp, “Older motors consume 44,000 kWh annually which is enough energy to power approximately 80,000 homes. By utilizing current motor equipment and drives, buildings will see roughly a 72% decrease in energy consumption.”

KONE Elevators developed what is known as an EcoDisc hoisting machine. This system is made of three main parts: the EcoDisc, regenerative system, and halogen-free cables. The EcoDisc is a permanent magnet and a generator which requires less materials and space compared to other hoisting systems. The regenerative system recovers excess energy from the elevator when the EcoDisc works as a generator. The halogen-free cables do not release toxic gas and acids if caught on fire. All together, the system can save up to 75% of the total energy consumed by the elevator.

Recently constructed buildings are installing machine-room-less (MRL) elevators. These elevators remove large elevator rooms by locating a small compact hoisting machine on the top of the elevator shaft. Compared to its counterparts, the MRL system consumes 40% less electricity and saves on other building costs because it does not take up an entire room for parts and equipment.

Elevators continuously draw energy even in standby mode. Whether it is low-level lighting or a ceiling fan, energy is constantly consumed. According to KONE, the idle energy draw is 25% to 80% of the total energy consumed by the elevator. However, KONE has developed concepts to reduce an elevator’s standby energy draw. After the last called car, the lights and fan automatically turn off and will not turn on again until the car is called again. Additionally, hallway illumination can be programmed to turn on only when an elevator car opens on that floor.

Similar to KONE, ThyssenKrupp utilizes automatic light shutoff. When the car is not in use, the lights will turn off and on again when the car is called. ThyssenKrupp partners with remote monitoring providers who watch the cars and report any issues when they arise. “Detecting possible problems early, these monitoring systems are an efficient way to reduce unnecessary emergency callbacks and eliminate unneeded paperwork,” said Bailey. In addition to the automatic shut off, both companies use LED lighting in the cars. By switching to LED lights, companies can reduce energy usage by 80%.

An elevator’s performance is measured by several factors: average wait times, stopping procedures, callout rate (unplanned service outages), working phones and energy consumption. When looking to green an elevator, these are key factors that need to be taken into account. Schindler follows the standards for vertical transportation equipment set by LEED for new construction. One of the categories is performance, where points are based upon measurement and verification. By measuring an elevator’s performance, remote sensing tools and software can track building energy consumption and waste. Also, remote monitoring can help reduce the callout rate. It can detect early and often when there is a potential problem and can report it accordingly.

Otis is on the forefront of innovating thinking with their Gen2 technology. This hardware and software package helps save space, money, energy and increases elevator performance. By using modern technology, Otis is able to cut down on the average wait time by incorporating destination control software. This software groups cars together based on what floor they are traveling to. This reduces the average wait time for a car as well as reducing wasted energy by not making stops on every floor. Gen2 technology can also reduce energy consumption. The drives of the machine turn energy into electricity and then feed it into the building’s electric grid where it can be used to help power other areas of the building.

Elevator companies can contribute to green and sustainable practices, ranging from LEED credits to best management practices. Companies have an abundance of retrofitting options that they can choose from. These choices include installing LED lighting, incorporating recycled and renewable materials, using new AC controllers and switching from petroleum-based fluids to clear oils. ThyssenKrupp recommends moving away from old motor gear equipment and switching to current motor generator equipment. These older machines produce approximately seven pounds of carbon dust annually. New and modern equipment decreases this dust and as a result of this, the indoor air quality improves. There are additional solutions to improve the indoor environment quality, such as low emitting materials in adhesives, paints, composite woods and agrifiber—materials generated from agricultural products.

Eco-friendly elevators operate with less energy consumption, turn wasted control rooms into efficient and attractive spaces, utilize sustainable materials and cut building operating costs. Whether retrofitting an existing elevator or installing a new one, the savings from greening an elevator outweigh the cost. As seen, greening an elevator can be as simple as switching to LED lighting to installing monitoring switches that dim the lights after the car has been called. Besides being environmentally conscious, a retrofitted car makes a more pleasant elevator experience. It not only benefits the building owner, but everyone who utilizes the building on a daily basis.

Photo: Masato OHTA

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