As we start a new year, it’s a good time to look at the new developments and trends in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), that will help deliver buildings that are comfortable, environmentally friendly and fit for purpose in the future.
Intelligent HVAC systems, smarter buildings
We’re going to see an upsurge in Building Information Modelling. This is where the building owner or operator has a computer model of the entire building, its heating and air conditioning systems, pipe runs, cabling and services. In the future, we’ll see buildings that are “smart” – which means that they can manage themselves, to optimise user comfort and wellbeing while minimising energy use and environmental impact.
Part of this will be HVAC systems that are plugged into the rest of the building management system. Take down a panel to expose the pipework behind it, and instead of having to use out of date diagrams, or guess what a pipe does, the HVAC engineer will simply be able to tap it – it will display or actually talk its function, connections and other key data.
What’s more, as the Internet of Things really gets going, remote diagnostics and maintenance will become possible, with HVAC contractors managing buildings and ordering repairs remotely, rather than having to send an engineer in every time.
Everything will become more compact
Even on new-build projects, space is at a premium. In city centres, it’s so expensive that every inch of working or accommodation space needs to be captured. That means the space taken up by HVAC systems has to shrink too. Not only that, tools used on site to install pipework and equipment will become smaller and lighter, to allow for safe working in confined spaces. New ways of fixing pipework, such as “press-connection” systems which use cordless press guns to join pipework, will become more widely used.
Air conditioning use will expand hugely worldwide
As countries such as China and India industrialise and become richer, the demand from their industries and populations for air conditioning is going to rise massively. The forecast is for seven-fold growth up to 2040. So it’s vital that the air conditioning industry can deliver air conditioning that is environmentally friendly. Many innovative technologies that address this problem are currently under development.
Innovative work on greener air conditioning
The US National Renewable Energy Lab is working on air conditioning that uses “desiccants” instead of the traditional cooling by evaporation that is the basis of most current air conditioning.
One of the problems with evaporative cooling is that it works best in dry climates. The team at NREL are working on air conditioning that doesn’t need a compressor or refrigerants. Instead it uses desiccants – materials that remove humidity from the air. In a second stage, heat is used to evaporate the water from the desiccant. Solar heat could be used to power the system, but in any case, this air conditioner technology uses between 30% and 80% less energy than our current systems.
These are just a few of the multiple trends influencing the way we use buildings and the HVAC sector will find itself at the centre of these developments.