August 2011

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Variable Frequency Drives and Building Automation Systems

Part 1 Proper Selection

Paul Ehrlich, Ira Goldschmidt & Angela Lewis
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
August Issue - Column

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The use of variable frequency drives (VFD’s) for controls of pumps, fans, and even compressors have become common on both new construction projects and retrofits.  VFD’s are a valuable tool in providing both improved control and energy efficiency.  Over the last decade the cost of these devices has dropped, and the reliability has improved, making their use almost a “no brainer”.   With that said, careful consideration should still be given to how the drive will be applied prior to selection.  This months column will focus on the best places to use drives and a future column will focus on how we recommend connecting and integrating drives with the BAS.

Benefits of Drives:

The primary benefit of using a VFD is that it provides an efficient method to vary the capacity of rotating equipment such as fans and pumps.  The fan laws show that reducing the flow in a system effectively can reduce the required power by the cube of the reduced flow.  In other words reducing airflow by half can result in the fan energy being reduced to one eighth of the original power required.  For example a fan, which used 100, kW at full flow, would drop to approximately 12.5 kW at 50% flow. Similar results can be expected with pumps and other rotating equipment.  While there are other available technologies that provide effective methods to modulate flow, such as inlet guide vanes and variable pitch fans, the use of VFD’s is more effective in achieving performance that comes closest to matching the theoretical limits of the fan and pump laws.

Application Cautions:

contemporary Given the potential benefits of drives it isn’t surprising to see them being widely applied.  However there are some cautions we urge in considering use of drives:

We consider the VFD to be a key part of the control system, providing numerous benefits, at an affordable cost. The next portion of this series will focus on how we recommend integrating drives, available data, and added benefits including the ability to get “free sub-metering” out of VFD’s.

About the Authors

Paul and IraPaul and Ira first worked together on a series of ASHRAE projects including the BACnet committee and Guideline 13 – Specifying DDC Controls. The formation of Building Intelligence Group provided them the ability to work together professionally providing assistance to owners with the planning, design and development of Intelligent Building Systems. Building Intelligence Group provides services for clients worldwide including leading Universities, Corporations, and Developers. More information can be found at  We also invite you to contact us directly at or


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