Modern air conditioning at commercial facilities has developed into a sophisticated science well beyond temperature and humidity control to support the comfort of occupants. With the last quarter of a rather challenging year on the horizon, companies in the industry are adapting strategies and HVAC design solutions to contribute to a range of business priorities, especially a reduction of operating costs.
Stefan Sander, Managing Director of Two Oceans Air Conditioning highlights how the industry has changed and shares his insights on future trends.
The impact of lockdown measure across industries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed operations and business strategies. What are the key changes you have experienced?
Lockdown had a significant and, in some cases, a severe impact on businesses. As income declined expenses were interrogated like never before. As HVAC installations typically make up a significant portion of companies’ overall expenses, the demand for new technologies to drive efficiencies picked up pace. Although there has been interest in new approaches like the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, more owners of commercial offices and industrial facilities are now ready to implement IoT solutions. Connectivity and data availability now make it possible to better control the power costs associated with HVAC systems.
The concept of ‘smart buildings’ has been around for some time, but it is now accelerating as owners of facilities need data in real-time to help them monitor and better control several operations inside a building, with HVAC being a significant component.
It is important to note that HVAC is about much more than temperature control and ventilation. An air conditioning installation at a commercial building also includes these aspects:
- Toilet/ablution extraction
- Outside/fresh air ventilation measured and controlled on CO2 (carbon dioxide sensing)
- Smoke extraction
- Lift and staircase pressurization
- Car park Extraction measured and controlled on CO (carbon monoxide sensing)
- Kitchen extraction and kitchen fresh air make-up
- Utility extraction
All these aspects contribute to overall HVAC related costs that can be managed with significantly improved efficiency through the implementation of IoT solutions. Through sensors added to different HVAC components it is possible to monitor all components and from the data obtained, adjust the running time or settings of an installation to drive costs down and improve the experience of occupants. A major positive for the introduction of IoT solutions is that it does not require the purchase of new equipment. Local innovators in IoT strategy, Pretoria-based IoT.nxt, has developed a solution that is technology agnostic and does not require any rip and replace. Which is a key consideration as companies drive cost reductions to protect business sustainability in the wake of the lockdown related business slowdown.
Introducing an IoT solution delivers many benefits in HVAC:
- Prevention of downtime
- Balance run time on mechanical equipment for longer lifespan
- Automated maintenance and running procedures to reduce human intervention
- Efficient operation to aim for reduced running costs
- Reduced energy consumption, positively contributing to a reduced carbon footprint and thereby benefiting through the carbon credit
- Third-party integration (generator, energy monitoring, sump pump status, domestic water metering, energy metering)
- Control of manual operation of mechanical instruments
- Confirmation and assurance that all assets on register have been attended to during service and maintenance procedures
- Longevity of equipment and system operation
Global warming has emerged as an important theme that businesses are including in future strategies. How has this trend impacted the HVAC industry?
Green initiatives are big business and the construction of new buildings or the conversion of existing buildings to become ‘green buildings’ is a big consideration for owners of facilities. The demand for eco-friendly HVAC units and installations is growing. Yes, saving costs remains a big focus but increasingly environmental factors are an issue for building owners.
This trend has contributed to the development of different HVAC systems well beyond classic air conditioning systems. These are:
- Chilled water system
- Hybrid control systems (Packaged Units)
- Direct expansion systems
- Variable refrigeration flow systems (VRF)
When combined with alternative power sources away from fossil fuels, for instance, solar power units to operate chillers, the environmental impact of an HVAC installation can be far reduced.