HVAC Industry Technology and the Internet of Things
HVAC component advancements are making units more energy efficient than ever. While pneumatic systems will continue to limit these advancements in older, large commercial and industrial buildings, systems are increasingly communicating between the indoor and outdoor controls while also reducing heat loss and maximizing dehumidifying processes. The systems also run quieter and are easier to use with touch screen, programmable thermostats that have multiple setting options.
As we all know by now the Internet of Things (IoT) is the internetworking of physical devices such as vehicles buildings and other items – embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. This is also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”). Someone quipped recently: “We thought one day we’d have flying cars, but all we got were computers to carry around in our pocket!”
While there are some absolute changes in the HVAC components and controls themselves, some external technologies are also helping to take that efficiency to even greater levels. A driving force behind these advances are the ever-expanding capabilities of the computers we all hold in our hands the days. Smartphones allow users to basically control and monitor their home or business from anywhere in the world.
The driving forces behind these technological advancements are
- Improving efficiency/reducing utility bills
- Lessening the strain on both the grid and the environment
- Increasing the comfort of rooms in a home or building.
What’s making this possible is the fact that connectivity is at an all-time high between both people and machines and rapidly growing.
Perhaps the best example of how HVAC technologies are changing the game smart thermostats such as those built by NEST. In short, the NEST Learning Thermostat is almost like a virtual butler as it educates itself on what temperatures you like and automatically adjusts the room to those settings based on time of day and occupancy. NEST turns itself off when you leave the room and is controllable via Wi-Fi which means you can perform tasks like warming up the bathroom before heading in for a morning shower if NEST hasn’t already done so.
While NEST is a remarkable advancement, the concept of a programmable or even teachable thermostat isn’t necessarily new. That should change in the near future since Google purchased NEST for $3.2 billion and will only continue to improve on these technologies. That being said there are numerous other HVAC concepts that are a reality now or will be sooner than imagined.
One thing that NEST incorporates that will benefit the function of all grid members is the ability to remotely shut off during peak demand. This program is already somewhat existent with ‘demand pricing’ in which utility companies offer lower rates for those customers who can manage their electricity usage when demand is at the highest. On very hot summer days, for example, there is only so much energy to go around, so those customers who ‘help out’ the utility company by temporarily turning off their air conditioning get a kickback with lower overall rates. The problem is not knowing when the peak demand starts or if the temperature is hot enough to be considered such a situation. Technology will make this process more automated, offering notifications or even automatic shutdown of utilities as local demand rises.
For the most part, consumers are at the mercy of HVAC technicians when their air conditioner or furnace goes out. In some cases, this can be a harrowing time especially in extreme hot/cold temperatures or when the repair company is experiencing a backlog of calls. The ability for HVAC components to self-diagnose and repair much like a computer could be a game-changer to get consumers heat or air back online. While repair personnel may worry about their jobs being nonexistent, those technologies could go to a next level and send them a notification when their clients are experiencing issues after all, somebody still has to perform parts replacements.
VARIABLE REFRIGERANT FLOW
One of the biggest energy losses occurs when an entire house is being warmed or cooled and only one room calls for the HVAC system to kick in. A great example is a home that sits in the shade on one end and in the direct glare of the sun on the other side. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) allows users to simultaneously heat and cool different parts of the building to various temperatures while maintaining energy efficiency.
These innovations are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the changing face of HVAC technologies. Eventually, smartphones will be even more connected with the furnace and air conditioner with more zoned heating and cooling options and even further control if that’s possible. Repairs may soon be electronically guided by the system itself as the smart home becomes more and more abundant.
Either way what this means is that ratty old furnace that barks and squeals for three minutes before starting up will soon be a thing of the past.