Money From Thin Air: How Air Conditioning Economizers Can Save Businesses Thousands

Improve Student and Building Scores with Energy Efficient HVAC Equipment

Going back to the ancient practice of alchemy and mythological stories about pots of gold at the end of a rainbow, people have always been enamored of the idea of making money appear, essentially, out of thin air. While that dream might not ever become a reality, one piece of modern technology does make money appear out of thin air in a more realistic sense.

Air conditioning economizers, considered one of the most important heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) energy efficiency technologies to be introduced into the market, take air from outside a building and turn it into a cheap, clean resource that can be used to cool a building’s interior. Not only do air conditioning economizers provide a renewable source of indoor cooling, they can result in hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in HVAC savings.

What is an air conditioning economizer, and how does it work?
An air conditioning economizer (also known as an air side economizer) is an air ducting arrangement that includes dampers, linkages or gears and an automatic control system to allow a cooling supply fan system to supply outside air to the inside of a building above federal and state minimum requirements. Through this process, economizers reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical cooling.

Exhaust air from the economizer system is then directed outside the building, which reduces air contaminants on the inside, making for a cleaner, healthier, more comfortable indoor environment. And since the economizer system is automated to meet the demands and desires of the building’s operations, temperatures and humidity levels can also be set to ideal levels.

What are the benefits of installing an air conditioning economizer?
Air conditioning economizers constitute an HVAC upgrade that significantly improves HVAC efficiency, air quality and temperature control, while also leading to large HVAC savings. In fact, various studies have shown that air conditioning economizers can save small and medium-sized businesses upwards of 20% a year on their utility bills.1 In general, it is more cost effective, from an initial equipment cost standpoint, to have an economizer installed with new HVAC equipment, than to pay the additional costs for higher efficiency equipment.

Certain types of businesses, particularly those that require constant cooling, like data centers, can realize even greater HVAC savings. Partnering with PG&E, Intel conducted a proof-of-concept for air side economizers in its data centers. The company found that a 500 kilowatt (kW) center could save approximately $144,000 annually, while a 10 megawatt (MW) facility could save $2.87 million a year. Intel also noted that this type of HVAC system replacement didn’t lead to any significant increases in failure rates.2

But financial HVAC savings are far from the only benefits attributable to installing air conditioning economizers. Other benefits include:

  • Cleaner indoor air: Employees and customers alike will enjoy the benefits of cleaner air, including fewer health problems and a more comfortable atmosphere
  • Lower carbon footprint: As energy efficiency and environmental concerns continue to grow in the public’s consciousness, implementing more eco-friendly technologies like air conditioning economizers will improve customer and employee satisfaction
  • Improved operational and HVAC efficiency: Efficiency is always a key component of a business’s success, and air conditioning economizers improve overall HVAC efficiency, which leads to an overall improvement in operational efficiency
  • Easier to manage indoor temperatures: Managing indoor temperatures can be a challenge for any business, and air conditioning economizers allow for greater control of the indoor environment, simplifying the process of modulating temperatures to make customers and employees more comfortable

Air conditioning economizers and commercial energy efficiency
From California’s Title 24 commercial energy efficiency requirements to new federal EPA regulations to public demand, pressure has been increasing on business owners to institute more environmentally friendly measures. Air conditioning economizers have been widely recognized by government agencies, environmental groups, technology experts and businesses as one of the most effective ways to become more energy efficient and are now required for new equipment purchases in California.

Air conditioning economizers are also an excellent energy efficiency option because they can be used by businesses of nearly any size, from small offices to large warehouses. And when they are paired with other HVAC controls, particularly programmable thermostats, the energy and cost savings can be even greater.

Business owners who want to be at the forefront of the energy efficiency movement, or who simply need to improve their business’s energy efficiency in order to meet government standards, can turn to air conditioning economizers as one of the most effective ways to go about that process.

Working with an HVAC contractor to optimize the benefits of an air conditioning economizer
Getting the most out of installing an air conditioning economizer—from both the financial and energy HVAC savings perspective—is best achieved by finding an HVAC contractor who can help with selecting, installing and maintaining the equipment.

An experienced, qualified HVAC contractor can help business owners decide whether an air conditioning economizer is the right choice for their business, determine the appropriate size of the economizer, install and operate the economizer properly and keep it running at its highest efficiency levels once it’s installed. To learn more about working with a contractor, check out PG&E’s eBook, "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor."


  1. U.S. Department of Energy
  2. U.S. Department of Energy