Image courtesy of Emerson Climate Technologies
Research shows that the global HVAC market is poised to set new growth records in the coming years. Market research firm, the Freedonia Group, pegs annual growth in HVAC at about 4%— and predicts sales will reach a whopping $122 billion by 2020.
Much of the demand for HVAC is driven by a big push for new, innovative approaches to heating and cooling. The focus is on smarter, greener, more efficient HVAC technologies with the potential to cut costs without sacrificing power.
Whether you're a student just beginning HVAC training, or an established professional in the field, these emerging innovations are sure to impact your career in meaningful ways.
Some of these ideas are still in the prototype or concept phase, while others are already in production. Here's our roundup of three of the biggest trends to watch in HVAC.
1. Digital Room-by-room Temperature Control
This technology was first developed at MIT and recently brought to market by a company called Ecovent. The goal is to maintain the optimal temperature for every room in a house—all through a system of automated vents and sensors that are controlled by an app.
Conventional HVAC systems funnel air into houses indiscriminately, wastefully heating or cooling vacant rooms—and making it difficult to adjust the temperature of individual spaces.
Ecovent, on the other hand, allows homeowners to control the temperature of each individual room via their automated Digital Zoning technology, which reduces waste, and delivers greater comfort throughout the home.
The homeowner simply inputs the temperature they want for each room into the app. Then, sensors monitor the rooms and relay the information to a central control system, which tells the vents how much to open or close.
Zoned heating/cooling systems are one of the fastest-growing parts of the HVAC industry, with millennials and Gen X leading the way as top consumers. According to Ecovent, their system installs in under 15 minutes, using only a screwdriver—and can save energy costs by up to 30%.
2. Solar Thermal Powered Air Conditioners
Conventional air conditioning systems are powered by electricity, which produces refrigeration and then cooled air. It's an efficient approach, but can be quite expensive, particularly during hot summer months.
A relatively new a/c technology promises to eliminate the electrical cost altogether by powering air conditioners with a combination of solar thermal power and natural gas. A company called Chromasun is leading the way, with chillers that draw energy from a rooftop solar panel, supplemented with relatively inexpensive natural gas.
Benefits include fewer moving parts (and thus less maintenance), greater cooling efficiency than conventional electric models, absolutely no electricity consumption, and a smaller environmental footprint.
3. Wi-Fi Enabled Thermostats
According to Emerson Climate Technologies, 75% of all thermostats will be Wi-Fi enabled by 2019, revolutionizing both the residential and commercial HVAC industry. Internet connected heating and cooling systems present a wide range of applications and advantages over conventional models, including:
- the ability to continually monitor systems and conditions via smart sensors
- immediate reporting of any system issues, and the ability to conduct an analysis and diagnosis via a remote system (like an iPad), rather than having an HVAC technician perform those steps onsite
- technology that "learns" occupants' preferences, and can adapt to external conditions, creating an ideal, personalized environment
- greater efficiency (with options like the Ecovent's app-controlled digital zoning, which minimize waste and lower costs throughout buildings)
The overall trend goes beyond internet-controlled thermostats, toward fully integrated smart homes, where HVAC systems "talk to" lighting systems, security systems, appliances, and more.
In the future, all of these components will work together to provide a seamless home or office environment—and new design, installation, and maintenance challenges for HVAC professionals.
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