The Future of HVAC Systems: 8 Next-Generation Technologies to Use Today

HVAC technology has revolutionized the way buildings are designed, built, and occupied. The evolution seems sure to continue because occupant comfort primarily depends on a healthy indoor environment. This article serves as an introduction to smart HVAC technologies we’re likely to see in the years to come.

The Need for Upgrading HVAC Systems

We live in a world where the outside air temperature (OAT) changes dozens of degrees on a single day. As the outdoor environment fluctuates, indoor air quality (IAQ) also needs to be adjusted because poor IAQ can have an adverse effect on both the ecological environment and human health.

HVAC system settings are modified to achieve not only an optimal indoor environment but the following goals and objectives as well:

  • Improving building efficiency
  • Minimizing costly repairs
  • Enhancing environmental sustainability
  • Phasing down carbon emissions
  • Protecting ozone depletion
  • Mitigating airborne diseases

Moreover, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems save owners a lot of time and money required to ensure efficient operations. So, the modifications in HVAC components are going to continue with vigorous technological advancements bringing more sophisticated and efficient solutions.

The Impacts of COVID-19 on HVAC Systems

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 (aka the novel coronavirus or COVID-19) has led the world to an unprecedented global crisis. Since the outbreak, several studies have been conducted to understand its causes and impacts on human and planetary health. Check out the key findings below:

  1. SARS-CoV-2 spreads primarily through small droplets that expel from the nose or mouth of infected individuals when they cough, sneeze, speak or contact infected objects (World Health Organization).
  2. Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurs in poorly managed ventilation or air-handling ducts that allow a build-up of small respiratory droplets and infectious particles (CDC).
  3. National power usage has dropped by 4% compared to the same time last year (Forbes).
  4. Global energy demand is set to decline by five percent, which is the largest drop in over 70 years (IEA).
  5. Daily global CO2 emissions decreased by about 17 percent in early April 2020 (Nature Climate Change). However, in May, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide reached a record-breaking peak of about 418 parts per million (ppm) (National Geographic).

The research says very clearly that lockdowns or business shutdowns are not enough to achieve a low-energy and low-carbon economy. A bad environment is the real culprit of ecosystem damage. Therefore, building owners are now looking for ways to kill all the birds with one stone, i.e., “optimizing the HVAC system.”

A Deep Dive into the Future HVAC Technologies

In the context of COVID-19 and everything happening worldwide, the HVAC industry is evolving at an exciting rate. Here, we’ve pulled together some of the major enhancements that we see in the mainstream to transform the HVAC industry over the next few years.

1. Internet of Things and Big Data

IoT-enabled sensors and thermostats are being bought off the shelf to optimize commercial HVAC systems. These devices adhere to strict Indoor Air Quality standards and are reported to decrease up to 50% of a facility’s total GHG emissions per year.

Big Data empowers IoT devices to process a large amount of data accurately and in real-time. Unlike traditional Energy Management Systems (EMSs), you can leverage them to monitor your HVAC system’s health 24/7 based on various parameters, including air quality, humidity, dewpoint, CO2, and more.

2. Smart Ventilation

Proper air circulation is proven to mitigate airborne contaminants from indoors. Therefore, manufacturers are now focused on creating smart ventilation technologies such as air-side economizers and Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) systems.

While typical ventilation controls operate 24 hours, causing significant energy waste and IAQ degradation, smart ventilation systems minimize air conditioning output to save energy and improve occupant comfort.

3. Renewable Energy Opportunities

Renewable energy sources such as solar and thermal HVAC systems can offer plenty of benefits, including decreasing the environmental footprint, improving air quality, and saving money on utility bills. According to recent statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources currently account for just 11 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. However, the ratio will grow because renewable energy is the only cost-effective way to widen energy access to last-mile communities.

4. Fault Prediction

It’s not far away when all HVAC systems will feature fault forecasting models to minimize maintenance costs. Currently, most systems operate on a 15-minute interval service and detect fewer errors. Predictive HVAC controls will be able to run at exactly 1-minute intervals, achieving a higher detection rate comparatively.

5. Artificial Intelligence

Although traditional mechanical HVAC systems are still widely used in commercial spaces, Artificial Intelligence is transforming the HVAC industry. AI-based heating and cooling control solutions are being integrated into HVAC systems to support 24/7 self-powered building operations that minimize costs and maximize energy savings.

For more information on the latest AI-enabled HVAC technologies, read our article elaborating how Artificial Intelligence is impacting the HVAC industry.

6. Machine Learning

Machine Learning is a branch of Artificial Intelligence. ML-powered HVAC systems can process a large amount of energy data in real-time and leverage it to learn how energy systems can be optimized for maximum reliability. Owners can this way set up or modify the building temperature settings based on the unique preferences of all occupants.

7. Genetic Algorithm

A Genetic Algorithm (GA) is a search technique used to solve simulation-based optimization problems. Future HVAC technology will integrate GA as an evolutionary algorithm to optimize the supervisory control strategy for the optimal operation of energy systems. GA is also to be used in tandem with ML-based predictive models to predict potential failures and implement counter-strategies to prevent them.

8. Model-based Predictive Control

Model-based Predictive Control or MPC is an advanced future technology that leverages AI and ML-based algorithms for real-time HVAC optimization. An effective MPC system allows a building’s heating and cooling systems to determine how the indoor environment changes over time and ensure that the Building Management System (BMS) precisely adapts to it.

With more focus being placed on comfort for both building owners and occupants, the technologies we discussed above are sure to shape the future of the HVAC industry. It’s just around the corner when commercial buildings will be offering greater comfort, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability. If you are sick of high maintenance costs or poor temperature controls, contact us at ActiveBAS and we’d love to take care of your HVAC system as well as educate you on the most effective energy-saving opportunities.