Smart HVAC Systems Through IoT: A Bird’s-Eye View
The smart HVAC industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and with this exponential growth comes the incorporation of technological advances. Voice-controlled heat pumps, motion-sensor-activated thermostats, and mobile apps to control your HVAC unit from anywhere, etc., are becoming increasingly common across the industry.
The advantages of this technological revolution are not only in the form of energy savings. It also offers superior comfort and convenience. The future is all about inter-connected devices. Where multiple home appliances can work together with each other with the tap of a few buttons on your smartphone.
The widespread use of smart control for HVAC is evident by the number of devices currently in use and the expected demand in the future. The smart HVAC market size is expected to grow at 19% from 2018 to 2024. The estimated market size in 2017 was around $ 7 billion. This bodes well for the future of the Internet of Things in the HVAC industry. As devices get smaller, cheaper, and efficient, more and more homeowners and residential users will venture into this territory and take full advantage of smart controls.
Let’s look at how IoT makes the HVAC industry add extra value to its products and how you can benefit from smart air conditioning.
What is IoT?
You will often come across the buzzword ‘The Internet of Things’. But what is it? In the simplest of terms, IoT means the ability of home appliances and devices to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other.
They can collect, share, and display data on your smartphone or web portals. From light bulbs to air conditioners, everyday objects, and even cars, can now be connected to the Internet. The result is an integrated ecosystem.
Making an HVAC Appliance Smart
We’ve heard the word ‘smart’ thrown around often, but what does it exactly mean? Standalone Wi-Fi connectivity of an HVAC appliance with the Internet or a smartphone is not a real smart capability. This is a start but by no means the final stage of smart HVAC systems.
Actual smartness is when your device can perform actions and maintain the temperature all on its own based on certain set triggers. This device can be a smart AC controller or a smart thermostat. The device can adapt, learn new behaviors over a period of time, and implement those actions by itself.
The user would not notice a drastic change in the home environment, even with changing outside weather conditions. This is because the device will take into account all the variables when deciding to maintain the optimum indoor temperatures.
Going forward with the previous explanation, a simple, smart device can sense the room’s current temperature. Moreover, it can display it on your smartphone through a mobile app. You can view it at any time, and even can alter the operating settings of your heat pump/air conditioner from the mobile app. But this is not what you would expect from a truly smart device.
What a truly smart device would do is take into account the outside temperature, learn your preferred temperature settings over a period of time, and then apply corrective actions to maintain that optimal temperature range all on its own, without you even touching the mobile app.
The true barometer of smartness is determined by the way the collected data is used for additional functions. But how is this achieved? Let’s find out!
How Does a Smart HVAC Device Make a Decision?
For a smart HVAC device to efficiently execute commands and make the best possible decision to maintain the indoor environment, it needs to have a robust array of sensors, algorithms, and processing capabilities. An algorithm is a set of instructions that commands a smart device to perform actions to maintain the indoor environment. Much like a brain, the algorithm makes real-time decisions, taking into account all the input from various sensors.
Geofencing is a commonly used function among smart home devices. Through this feature, the device knows the user’s location and can turn the air conditioner/heat pump ON or OFF, according to the user’s distance from home/office. This location is sent out through the smartphone, to the cloud, and then on to the smart device.
The IoT Workflow
To better understand how smart HVAC IoT appliances work, it is better to have an overview of the different components within such a network. Each element has its role in the IoT ecosystem, and if a single component fails, the complete IoT chain will break. The responsiveness will be slow, there will be a lag in commands sent through the mobile app. As a result, the user experience will suffer. It is thus essential to keep all the parts of the system working like a well-oiled machine.
The first step for the user is to send a command through a mobile app; imagine controlling your air conditioner with your phone. The app serves as the sole interface between the user and smart device, and the cloud service acting as an intermediary. The cloud is similar to a transfer station, which stores the commands, processes them, and forwards the action to the smart device. Commonly used cloud services include Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Once the smart device receives the command, it sends a signal to the heat pump/air conditioner, either through wireless infrared signals or wired input.
The innovation is the use of smart home assistants such as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. You can send voice commands to your smart AC controller or create elaborate routines to operate multiple smart home devices at once using smart home assistants. These can be your smart coffee machine, smart blinds, lights, or door locks.
Differentiating Between Thermostats and Controllers
With multiple smart HVAC devices on the market, it can get a bit confusing. The primary difference between a thermostat or a controller is whether it is used to control a ducted HVAC system or ductless.
In ducted systems, a wired connection is usually required between the HVAC appliance and the smart thermostat. Infrared is used for a ductless system to send commands, just like a simple remote control. The smart AC controller has built-in IR transmitters for this purpose. Other features like geofencing, smart scheduling, voice controls, and others are largely the same, providing the same comfort and convenience to the end-user.
Advantages of HVAC IoT Products
HVAC products within the IoT ecosystem present numerous advantages to the end consumer. Examples include energy savings, increased comfort, daily convenience, and ease of use. Let’s see what some of them are:
1. Remote Monitoring
With IoT, you can be up-to-date with your air conditioner’s status, no matter where you are in the world. It can tell you the current room temperature, set-point temperature, and modes in an integrated mobile app or web portal. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection, and you have air conditioning controls in the palm of your hands.
2. Predictive Maintenance
With remote monitoring, you can take credible action when you feel something amiss with your air conditioner. The mobile app or web portal can alert you when the air conditioner is not working at its optimum levels. Some apps like the Cielo Home mobile app can alert you when your AC filter is due for a cleanup.
3. Adaptive Controls
IoT makes your home appliances smart. This enables your air conditioning to make decisions according to the current conditions, taking into account all the variables involved. It can automatically turn the air conditioner on if you are about to reach home. Conversely, it can turn it off in the living room when you are about to go to bed. These are just two examples of how IoT HVAC systems can adapt to your usage habits.
4. Smart Home Connectivity
You can guide your smart HVAC appliances to run in sync with your other smart home devices for ultimate comfort and convenience. With routines, you can simply say “good morning,” your lights will switch on, your coffee will start brewing, and your cooling will be set according to your morning routine.
Furthermore, your cooling or heating can work in sync with smart fans or smart blinds, etc., to help save energy. As an example, when it’s sunny outside, your blinds can lower, and the fan can turn on to reduce the load on your AC. This can allow your AC to automatically switch to a moderate temperature setting rather than consuming extra energy to run the AC on full blast.
Energy Saving With a Smart HVAC System
According to the Department of Energy, home HVAC systems take up the lion’s share of home energy costs, as much as 42%. The obvious solution to that? Reduce the temperature on the HVAC. This can mean uncomfortable indoor environments. Moreover, if you turn off the HVAC before leaving, you will return to a home that is either too hot or cold. Both of these cases are not ideal.
The answer to this inconvenience lies with smart HVAC systems. As mentioned above, these systems can alter their usage through adaptive controls and work only when they need to operate. This modified usage can result in energy savings of up to 25%. These energy savings make up for the slightly higher initial costs of smart HVAC systems. The period can sometimes be as short as 12 months.
The Way Forward With IoT in HVAC
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a promising tech innovation, which is bound to change the landscape of the HVAC industry. Along with the conveniences and comforts, though, there are still a few challenges that need to be met. These include the IoT ecosystem’s security, enhanced user-comfort, thermostat/smart controller learning capabilities, and reduction in the response time. Sooner or later though, these challenges will be met. This is due to the fast-paced development in this world, with an increasing number of companies coming into the industry.
IoT in HVAC is the future, and it will prove to be a game-changer in providing the ultimate consumer comfort and convenience. Moreover, the energy savings through this technology will make the shift to smart HVAC systems even more enticing.