IoT tech opens the door for untold gains in HVAC energy efficiency and effectiveness at providing comfort.
Recently in the tech industry, there’s been a lot of focus on IoT. Yes, it’s the latest trend in electronics, but it’s not just a fad. It’s the next development in tech that can solve many of our toughest problems. IoT stands for Internet of Things, it’s a concept that describes a network of devices that interact with each other. Things, rather than just computers coming online. Your watch, your thermostat, your lightbulbs, cameras, cars, etc. all connected to the web. How can this new trend in electronics improve HVAC? Easy: with talking sensors.
What’s the Problem?
The problem with HVAC is that there’s no way to know how many people are in a room at a given time. We also don’t know what the quality of their indoor experience is. This is where HVAC’s inefficiency and poor service quality comes from. Due to these blindnesses, rooms are often conditioned and ventilated assuming maximum occupancy. With such overkill settings, users are left either too hot or too cold. IoT swoops in to solve these problems. Through sensors and devices communicating over the network, this information blindness can be addressed.
There are a variety of ways to detect how many people are in a room. Theoretically, you could have someone sitting in each room counting people. But until IoT, there hasn’t been an efficient way to detect people in a real time, automatized fashion. Not only detect, but also wirelessly communicate that data to a computer-controlled decision maker. Through a wireless network of sensing devices, we can now reliably know how many people occupy a room in real time and be able to use that data for decision making. Thus, with IoT, the first major blindness of occupancy is solved.
Opening Up New Capabilities
Beyond knowing occupancy, knowledge of trends over long periods of time is valuable information. Reliably knowing how people traffic through rooms over time opens up the possibility of something previously impossible: a predictive HVAC. That is, rooms that are conditioned in anticipation of people occupying that room. This is a capability that has a high potential to make the HVAC system more efficient and is only available through an IoT solution.
It’s a bit more complicated to find out how people feel about the air. You could have someone ask every single person in a room how they feel, or you could have their phones and laptops ask them. Nowadays, with everyone having a computer on their person, it opens a convenient way to survey people about their experience. After which, you feed that survey data into the main server, addressing the second major blindness in HVAC. Depending on how the algorithm handles the data, the system adjusts the indoor climate based on how people feel, delivering comfort more effectively.
It’s not all perfect though. With the capabilities for learning that IoT brings, it also brings it’s downsides. When you have a network of devices, you have to take care of these devices. Sensors will need maintenance. Their implementation also adds more overhead. Do you go corded or wireless? Wireless is convenient, but now you have to worry about battery life and replacement. Smoke detectors are brilliant inventions, but with the added benefit of safety comes the cost to take care of them. Maintenance is inconvenient, and in large solutions with many sensors, it can get expensive. There’s also the concern of security. More devices need more security. More potential nodes to target for malicious agents. The benefits are still large, but it’s important to keep in mind the costs.
A Cure for Blindness
So both major areas of HVAC blindness find their cures through IoT. The single most energy intensive activity in buildings has found a new way to make it massively more efficient and effective. Not only does IoT offer a more comprehensive solution to HVAC, but it also opens a path for a more connected building. A user comfort application can aid in developing a work and office culture where every worker’s input matters. People feeling like they’re apart of the decision making process behind the air, as opposed to some single, unknown entity being the sole decider. IoT opens up massive potential for greater efficiency, a critical goal, but it also opens the possibility for greater social connectivity and satisfaction within indoor environments. It’s just the next step on the path toward a future of sustainability and efficiency.