Time to join the smart set?
The HVAC sector is undergoing a digital revolution that is set to transform how smart buildings are conceived, designed, and built. Indeed, the signs are already there. Tim Mitchell, Sales Director at Klima-Therm, explains
People are getting brighter. Since the intelligence test was invented more than a century ago, our brainpower has steadily increased to the point where even the average person today would be considered a genius compared to someone born in 1919. This phenomenon – the observed rise in IQ test scores over time – is known as the Flynn effect 1.
But it is not only people who are getting smarter. Buildings too have developed to the point where they are equipped to cut energy consumption (in some cases to net zero), predict maintenance requirements, boost comfort (and therefore productivity), and help ensure the health and wellbeing of the occupants.
Indeed, smart buildings have come a long way since the first intelligent building – the City Place Building in Hartford, Connecticut, northeast of New York in the US – was inaugurated in 1983 by United Technologies Building Systems Corporation (now Raytheon Technologies Corporation).
So, what are smart buildings?
So, what are smart – also known as connected, automated, or intelligent – buildings? According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) they are distinctive because they use in-built technology to enhance the occupier experience: “Depending on how available technology is applied, these buildings can improve health and safety aspects, support efficient energy management, and allow flexibility in how structures are managed and maintained.
“This has been particularly relevant during the global pandemic by allowing employers to manage sites effectively in terms of provisions and people numbers, and in allowing employees to access work autonomously. Smart buildings internally self-service and actively communicate with elements outside their walls to interact with environmental conditions and societies.”
Although there is no single, universally agreed-upon definition for smart buildings, modern versions typically involve installing and using advanced and integrated building technology systems. These might include wireless technologies, remote monitoring, data gathering devices, networked devices, and intelligent building management systems.
Among the mechanisms that can be used to control and optimise the performance of a smart building are the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, building management systems, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, and robotics.
This technology can assist building occupants with building automation, HVAC services, energy management, life safety, telecommunications, and facility management systems.
More than 80% of new buildings are now estimated to incorporate at least one aspect of smart technology which might include intelligent security, lighting, or specialised controls.
In the HVAC sector, systems that employ technologies such as demand control ventilation and variable air volume control can be enhanced with intelligent devices like smart thermostats and monitoring tools.
These allow, for example, energy consumption data to be monitored and analysed to predict future energy requirements. They can also match energy generation requirements with usage and distribution patterns.
This means that smart HVAC systems can learn the specific preferences of a building’s occupants and automatically adjust parameters to match their habits. They can also be integrated with other smart systems such as lighting, security, and electrical appliances.
As well as offering excellent control, smart systems can also provide a great deal of useful material to give a building occupier or facilities manager valuable insight into the workings of the building, but this is also where a potential pitfall lies – information overload: being exposed to more data than you can process, leading to confusion and an inability to make effective decisions.
The latest smart controls include sequence controllers designed to manage several units, including multipurpose equipment, reversible heat pumps and chillers, regardless of the compressor/refrigerant technology installed, in order to achieve the best overall efficiency. The latest solutions feature graphic interface and display unit operating parameters, operating status, and alarms.
But smart control is more than merely a versatile means of supervising and regulating HVAC systems. It can also make servicing and maintenance easier. Some systems, for example, can simplify the service operation as the implemented algorithms enable optimal operation of the group of units - even in case of partial dysfunctions. Furthermore, they can provide the history of the alarms and also the notification function by mail/message to designated users.
Users can access this information directly from the device, from a connected building management system or dedicated web pages, via local area network connection or a web app.
Running parallel with the development of smart buildings there has been a growing focus on national and global sustainability targets. As the RICS points out: “Building construction and operations account for 36% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, leading to a focus on applying greener technologies within the built environment.”
A particularly innovative way of using existing high efficiency low carbon heat pumps of various types, bringing them together to produce a more flexible and efficient heating and cooling solution, are hybrid four-pipe air or water source heat pumps.
These produce simultaneous or independent cooling and heating using heat recovery wherever possible for ‘free’ heating or cooling. They also employ a water source heat pump producing high temperature hot water primarily for domestic hot water.
The cost and emissions savings can be impressive. The Rhoss EXP/HT all-electric system we supply, for example, typically boasts a 22% operating energy cost saving and 28% reduction in carbon emissions compared to a traditional chiller and boiler four-pipe solution (without water source heat pump). The additional capital investment of around 28% for the hybrid heat solution over a chiller and boiler system can be paid back in just over two years from the energy cost saving.
Benefits of a smart building
Standard building systems often face issues associated with inefficiency and overspending. This, in turn, impacts heavily on other business issues such as productivity and the comfort and wellbeing of occupants.
Introducing a high degree of automation to manage buildings by using the latest sensors, actuators, microchips, digital HVAC control, and other sophisticated building system components can neutralise these shortcomings.
Indeed, creating or transforming a structure into a smart building offers a host of solid business advantages, including:
- Lower energy costs.
- Lower carbon emissions.
- Better occupant comfort, health, and wellbeing.
- Higher productivity.
- Superior indoor air quality and lighting levels.
- Reduced operating costs.
- More effective preventive maintenance operations.
- Improved occupant safety.
- Increased asset value.
- Enhanced security.
- Real-time data gathering.
- Interaction with outside environmental conditions.
- Offering a more autonomous experience for building occupants.