Smart HVAC: New-Age Building Climate Control Technology

by September 15, 2016 0 comments

We discuss the industry potential presented by smart HVAC technology in climate control at Indian SMBs and also the various techniques used to implement it

– Gaurav Burman, VP & Country President, India, 75F

Smart HVAC is a system that provides uniform comfort, is energy-efficient, and reacts automatically and speedily to dynamic changes in heat loads. It also provides visibility into its operations, provides graphics-based reporting and remote control by means of smartphone apps, the web, dedicated tablets, and PCs. It achieves this through an interconnected ecosystem of traditional HVAC equipment, sensors, automated dampers and a building automation system. The Smart HVAC system should also factor in local weather conditions, off-peak tariff rates from local utilities and learn from historical usage patterns. These days, Indoor Air Quality Management is becoming increasingly important, so a Smart HVAC system needs to be able to integrate that as well.

Potential of Smart HVAC in the Indian SMB Market

The potential of Smart HVAC in India is enormous and virtually untapped. Not even a fraction of the full potential of interconnected sensors, IOT, data analytics and cloud computing have been deployed here. This is especially true in the SMB segment where the awareness of the suitability of these technologies for the SMB segment till recently, was very low. The segment was not specifically targeted by vendors of these technologies, preferring to focus on the uppermost echelon of the enterprise segment. Also, in recent years, the segment has grown exponentially, with many SMB organizations having to grapple with the problems that come with such growth, namely, need to optimize operating expenditure and a greater transparency into operating parameters across their organization.

Technologies Used to Implement Smart HVAC

The basic structure of a Smart HVAC system consists of three layers viz. Sense-Analyze-Control. At the Sense layer, one needs to have different kinds of sensors as per one’s requirement for example; temperature, humidity, CO/CO2, and occupancy. These need to talk to a centralized control system preferably using wireless technologies to minimize installation times. The refresh of these inputs should be as close to real-time as possible, the shorter the intervals, the better.

At the Analyze layer, one needs to have either local or cloud-based computing algorithms to process the real-time data from a building or facility with the desired set points as decided by the client and various other data sources like ambient weather conditions or historical usage patterns. The appropriate instructions need to be sent out in order to achieve the desired results. This is only as far as providing inputs or a control strategy goes.

However, a true IoT functionality also requires the Control strategy to be integrated into the system. At this layer, one needs to integrate with the traditional HVAC systems and switch on/off, regulate temperature & humidity, maintain airflow balancing etc. This is where the fine balance between comfort and economy needs to be maintained that is delivering comfort while being energy efficient. The system can communicate internally using standard building automation wireless protocols like for example, KNX, Zigbee, BACnet, and Z-Wave. Externally, in a case of a cloud-based system, it would require a dedicated Wi-Fi connection. The bandwidth required varies but will be a fairly low example, 3 GB data transfer per month on a shared 2 Mbps bandwidth.

IoT Playing a Leading Role in the Market

IoT has applicability wherever there are devices. In the HVAC space, traditionally there have been 2, 3 sometimes 4 separate sub-systems which have either been manually controlled or independent or both. The systems here refer to Chillers, Air Handling Units or Ductable splits, Temperature/humidity sensors and Fresh air/Air quality sensors and the Building Automation Systems. It is very rare to find all of the systems deployed, connected and set appropriately.

The first step is to have all of these systems interconnected and set appropriately. This will enable the sensing of dynamic changes in the environment and appropriate alerting, but some level of human intervention remains. However, a true IoT functionality also requires the Control strategy to be integrated into the system. At this layer, one needs to integrate with the traditional HVAC systems and switch on/off, regulate temperature, humidity, and maintain airflow balancing. The benefit to customers is that their HVAC system provides uniform comfort, is energy-efficient, reacts automatically and speedily to dynamic changes in heat loads & provides visibility into its operations.

Roadmap for Smart HVAC Management in Indian SMBs

The overall HVAC market is slated to grow by 10-12 percent according to industry reports. Of this, the SMB sector is likely to grow by 18-20 per cent. That is just the fresh deployment opportunity. 4X to 5X of this exists in the existing buildings, which do not have any level of automation or optimization in place. Therefore, whichever way you look at it, the opportunity is enormous. It’s fueled by 2 factors mainly: changing consumer preferences where they are demanding more comfort more consistently and where they are demanding greater energy efficiency and automation; and availability of these technologies at a price point affordable to most customers, with a short payback period.

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