Mobility, The IoT Gradually Transform HVAC

by | Nov 30, 2015

HvacHeating, ventilation and air conditioning – HVAC – has such a ubiquitous impact on energy usage and management that it has a tendency to hide in plain sight. For insiders, of course, it is a field that constantly evolves.

Current events in HVAC have, in one way or another, ties with the emergence of mobility and advanced telecommunications and information technology (IT). These technologies lend themselves perfectly to HVAC. “The biggest impact will be on how we maintain and repair HVAC system more cost effectively,” wrote Riptide IO co-founder and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Marti Ogram in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today. “Building operators will win because the machines can signal when repairs are needed or confirm maintenance was done properly. No more commissioning done poorly. Smart HVAC systems will be able to verify proper commissioning. Or they will be able to adjust automatically or make recommendations for energy savings. Overall, better run systems, more energy efficiency aware, and less money to maintain.” Daikin Applied Americas recently took a minority stake in Riptide IO.

It is possible that these capabilities could have helped avert a recent tragedy in New York City. Outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease in January and again in July and August in the Bronx, the northern borough of New York City. The first affected only eight people. The second led to the infection of 110 people and the death of 12. Those who died all had existing medical conditions, according to Cooperator. Improperly maintained cooling towers caused the outbreaks.

The story does a good job of explaining that Legionnaire’s occurs in standing water environments such as central air conditioning systems and whirlpool water heaters. Jeff Nack, an indoor air quality specialist for Pure Air Control Services, offers some tips on proper cleaning of HVAC cooling coils at Facility Executive.

The IoT can make such tragedies less likely. A company that is beginning to generate attention by marrying the mobile world and HVAC is Augury, which has offices in New York City and Haifa, Israel. The company’s technology is based on using the sound and vibration of a machine to determine their health. More specifically, an engineer uses a magnet to attach a sensor to the machine being examined. The sensor conveys data about the sound and vibration the machine is making to a smartphone which, in turn, sends it in real time to Augury. The sound is analyzed against industry the machines record and industry norms. An assessment is made on whether it is working correctly and, if not, what must be done to fix it.

HVAC is one of the industries targeted for the technology. Augury recently got a $7 million Series A funding round from Formation 8 Hardware. An investment of an undisclosed amount also was made by Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB), a part of Munich Re.

Of course, Riptide IO and Augury are not the only companies marrying modern telecommunications and the IoT with HVAC. In a story at Fortune about Keen – which makes smart vents that open and close based upon whether a room is occupied and its temperature – Stacey Higginbotham makes the point that there is a tremendous amount of activity in the residential HVAC market. It goes beyond the after-sale retail market:

The market to tweak HVAC systems in residential homes is vast and filled with both startups like Keen and Ecovent, but also larger firms such as Emerson, which is pioneering a different type of efficiency play. Emerson is creating a service sold to HVAC installers that relies on sensors placed inside your existing ductwork and AC units that will ensure that your current system runs optimally.

The future seems bright for HVAC. “We see possibilities for artificial intelligence, learned systems and new types of smart sensors to realize a more automated and easy-to-manage building,” wrote Ogram. “Right now, most solutions still require lots of human intervention, and facility management teams are already spread too thin. Applications that don’t have enough root cause analysis or just generate more work orders may not be helping enough. We see an environment when software doesn’t just report bad news, but perceives conditions and implements actions – a self-healing, automatically adjusting environment.”

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