The statement that our world is becoming more inter-connected is an understatement when you consider ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT). In the world of HVAC and cooling systems it is easy to see that air conditioning systems are becoming more intelligent with a greater range of remote communications options which should lead to improvements in operating costs and overall energy efficiency.
There are also sub-categories for IoT and one of the biggest is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) which has come about to support automation under Industry 4.0 (The 4th Industrial Revolution).
The ‘Internet of Things’ is a network of physical devices with embedded electronics, software and connectivity which enables remote monitoring and data exchange via the internet for management, control and energy saving. It is estimated that by 2020 over 30 billion devices will be connected to the IoT.
The IoT will change the way HVAC systems are monitored, analyses and controlled in the years to come to increase energy efficiency and ease of maintenance in particular.
HVAC systems continue to evolve and one of the key developments aside from energy efficiency is in network connectivity. It is possible through SNMP to provide an air conditioning system with an IP address and add to a local network for management and control.
HVAC systems can also be connected to Building Management Systems (BMS) in a similar way or using more basic signal contacts. In place of fixed wire systems remote control is also possible via wireless connections to handsets and thermostats. Most systems require an additional monitoring or communications card or adapter to allow this level of communication.
The Internet of Things adds a new dimension with the provision to add the HVAC devices to a wider and smart building network that can access sensors to detect the presence of occupants and personalise the heating or cooling settings of the rooms they use on a regular basis to their chosen set levels. These levels influence and guide individual elements within a building’s heating and cooling systems in terms of temperature levels, fan speeds, compressor speeds and air flow direction.
The IoT changes the way HVAC systems can be monitored and controlled through advanced information collection and analysis to bring advantages not just in terms of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration but overall energy efficiency and operating cost control
Connecting heating, ventilation and cooling systems to the IoT provides opportunities to improve operational performance and energy efficiency by linking performance to other data sets. These could include: weather forecasts, holiday periods and even local usage in smart buildings whose users are tagged to let the intelligent building system know whether they are on site or not and which rooms they are using.
This is an example of a form of artificial intelligence (AI) within a smart building as the HVAC systems make real-time adjustments to optimise their performance and adjust themselves within a range of operational parameters.
The benefits to the organisation realise themselves in terms of lower energy bills and improved energy efficiency with the potential to reduce costs by around 20-30% per annum compared to traditional or conventional HVAC systems.
Many organisations are moving their data operations to cloud based datacentres but are maintaining local service rooms or micro-datacentres on site. Using datacentres in the cloud enables HVAC manufacturers and related installation and maintenance resellers to access data on their field populations for trend analysis from a secure storage environment. For any HVAC device connected to the IoT, the device is visible in terms of its location, operational information and service requirements.
The rate of adoption of smart thermostats and radiator controls within smart buildings is rising, whether these are domestic, commercial or industrial. It is now possible to control HVAC settings using an APP (software application) on an Apple or Android based phone and to receive alerts when temperature settings are exceeded, or systems switch on/off.
This is a direct result of the Internet of Things age and this level of connectivity will increase for other devices within a building including access and security and power management. Without this type of innovation, traditional controls remain a hindrance with increased costs and less opportunities to raise energy efficiency by maintaining a zoned-approach to heating and cooling.
Clients will see improvements in overall reliability and maintenance for IoT connected HVAC and cooling systems. An air conditioner manufacturer will be able to monitor on a global basis those of its air conditioners that are connected to the internet. They can gather a range of important operational information from the systems to provide predictive failure rates and operational performance.
Service intervals could be increased for systems that are low-loaded or operating below a certain percentage level. Service intervals may also be extended for products whose overall reliability exceeds engineering forecasts.
Faster response time to alarms and service inspection requests is another potential outcome with both manufacturers, distributors and their resale partners connected to the internet and monitoring portals.
Where new firmware features are introduced these could be despatched globally through the Internet for each HVAC or cooling system to download and upgrade themselves. Firmware improvements could lead to increased energy efficiency and lower operating costs.
Conventional HVAC systems have an operating life that can be extended using smarter technologies and the advantages for predictive failures and maintenance management. Replaced systems could also be renovated for deployment in a second user market rather than simply recycled. These two aspects have a direct environmental impact and helps organisations to meet their environmental and sustainability objectives.
Internet enabled cooling systems with open protocols provide opportunities for App developers and their imagination and entrepreneurial drives. Applications could be created to improve local management or interface with other IoT devices on site.
There are many non-profit organisations which have incorporated protocols that enable IoT to be used with their systems. By joining these organisations, you will be able to cut short your development time and join the communities of companies with products that are certified to be used in that environment.
Overall the Internet of Things will lead to many improvements in how devices are managed, the loading on national grids and their energy efficiency management. The benefits cannot however be made without taking care when it comes to one major area of concern which is that of Cyber Security.
For devices connected to the Internet even greater care must be taken in terms of providing gateway security and access to onsite networks. This will be one of the biggest concerns to organisations running one or more datacentres or server rooms. For these types of facility cooling is one of their biggest costs and they stand to benefit the most from Internet of Things enabled air conditioning, cooling, refrigeration and heating system management and control and their interface with smart building technologies.
From 2015, it became illegal to use Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), including the ozone-depleting refrigerant gas R22, in refrigeration, heat pump and air conditioning (AC) systems. R22 was commonly used in cooling systems pre-dating 2004 and its ban has had a major effect on air-conditioning costs.
Despite what many of us may think in the UK on this cold and snowy December day, there is one thing we can guarantee about our climate and the global climate in general. It is not getting any cooler and the demand for air conditioning systems continues to grow worldwide. This growth is also fueled not just by climate change but the growing tendency for IT based operations (server rooms and datacentres) and the general growth of industry and commercialisation across our planet. For many people, air conditioning could be considered a utility-type service without which they simply cannot function.