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Embracing digital solutions for energy efficiency


The rapidly evolving digital landscape witnesses the integration of digital solutions to transform industries across the board, including Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). This revolution brings forth unprecedented opportunities to enhance efficiency, sustainability, and comfort levels within buildings while minimising life cycle costs.

The advent of smart watches, phones, and now spatial computers has made everything accessible at our fingertips. The detection of everything is now accessible with the mere movement of our eye. This changing dynamic in the digital world must be leveraged to drive evolution in the HVAC industry. The additional bonus is streamlining every aspect of management. Based on digital solutions and methods, the goal is to develop sustainable, future-oriented building concepts with efficient energy supply and high thermal comfort levels at minimal life cycle costs.

Tackling smaller issues

Prabhat Goel, Industry and Technical Advisor, Eurovent Certita Certification while discussing the digital aspect of HVAC shares, “In my experience attending numerous energy conferences, I consistently observe a common issue: overcooling. Attendees often complain about the chilly temperatures, indicating a lack of control over the cooling systems. By implementing simple solutions like installing small, wireless temperature sensors at various points, we can gain insight into the unnecessary cooling in places like hotel lobbies and empty offices, leading to significant energy savings.”

Considering air handling units, many of these units, especially in India, are not functioning properly, with over 90 percent of variable frequency drives being non-operational. Despite the high cost of installation, these units are essentially wasting energy. Fortunately, monitoring energy consumption for motors of less than 100 kilowatts is now affordable and easy, allowing for better management of energy usage.

Visibility and accountability are crucial. Instead of relying on a single energy meter at the building entrance, every air handling unit should have its own energy meter for accurate monitoring. Even simple steps like this can contribute to achieving net-zero energy consumption and decarbonisation goals. It’s essential to focus on these small, practical measures before tackling larger initiatives.

System and component efficiency

Production typically involves numerous small equipment pieces, such as temperature sensors for monitoring various locations. According to Mr. Sandip Vardam, Education Committee Chair, INBAC Association by analysing patterns from these sensors, one can tailor the system accordingly. For example, when commissioning Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), employing different energy-saving strategies based on distinct channels can be beneficial. Using pressure-based systems instead of temperature-based ones can result in significant energy savings. When examining the overall HVAC system, it is possible to control air-side energy consumption on one end and chiller-side usage on the other. This allows the implementation of different energy-saving strategies for each component.

Worst-Case scenarios

HVAC systems are often designed for worst-case scenarios. Even while consultants strive for optimal designs with energy-saving components, sometimes issues arise later on. This can occur when end-users lack the necessary skills to properly operate heating and ventilation strategies recommended by consultants. Problems can also arise during the commissioning process or due to budget constraints preventing the replacement of faulty components. In such cases, even the expertise of Building Management System (BMS) companies may not fully resolve the issues. It leads to decreased system efficiency as components fail or perform inadequately.

It is essential to consider worst-case scenarios when designing HVAC systems, especially regarding automation and control systems. The true test of energy efficiency occurs when the system operates under conditions different from the design parameters. For instance, when designing air conditioning for a banquet hall, factors like population size and heat generation are taken into account. However, in real-world situations, not all conditions may align perfectly. The system must be able to handle various scenarios, including unexpected ones, while maintaining functionality and efficiency.

In such cases, the system can operate under any scenario as long as the control system is functioning correctly. However, the challenge arises when the system is designed for specific conditions but operates differently in reality. In such situations, the control logic must adjust, such as VFDs ramping down to maintain desired temperatures and chiller water control adjusting flow rates to maintain system conditions. Users need to understand the importance of failed components to ensure the system operates as intended. Unfortunately, users may prioritise avoiding capital expenses over maintaining system efficiency, even if the cost of repairs is relatively low compared to the potential losses.

Wireless systems

In the HVAC field, there is a wide array of devices accessible for monitoring various parameters like temperature, CO2 levels, relative humidity, and occupancy during regular operations. These wireless devices can be used for in-house operations, while DDC controllers and other tools are suitable for billing purposes. Nowadays, these devices can easily integrate with existing systems either through wired connections like LAN or through wireless connections such as Wi-Fi, providing numerous connectivity options.

Data Management

Harshad Panchal, Sr Project Manager – HVAC, Digital Connexion illustrating his involvement in constructing data centers shares, “While data centers primarily focus on data storage, ensuring the proper protection and management of this data requires significant engineering efforts. Particularly in the context of Edge-Vac, many customers come with strict Service Level Agreements (SLAs). For example, a customer with a three-megawatt data hall may require the air inlet to servers to stay below 20 degrees Celsius to meet their SLA. Monitoring and maintaining this SLA involve various measures, such as continuous monitoring of air handling units and water parameters through BMS. Despite being on a global platform and operating in different time zones, customers can monitor their entire system remotely through a common platform. This involves connecting all data to a Data Center Infrastructure Manager (DCIM) for monitoring, ensuring that both local and global levels are continuously monitored to uphold service continuity and prevent SLA breaches.”

Data encryption

Sureshkumar T V, Controls Fulfillment Leader + Tech support & Training, Trane Technologies shares that nowadays, all equipment, including building automation systems and software, come with robust encryption, typically utilising 128-bit encryption technology. This encryption is highly secure and nearly impossible to breach, ensuring data safety in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry.

At the management level, there is capability to generate numerous reports that are user-friendly and easily understandable. This data should be presented in a format that is comprehensible to anyone, even those who are not experts in the field. This level of data formatting and presentation is achievable with both building management systems and IoT systems.

Energy Savings

Digitalisation can lead to significant energy savings, typically around 20 to 30% on total grid power consumption. If we take unoccupied offices, where air conditioning continues to run unnecessarily. With advancements like geo-mapping, systems can be programmed to start and stop based on location. When leaving the office, a room or split AC can switch to fan mode or turn off the compressor automatically. This feature alone can result in substantial power savings on the grid, even in unoccupied spaces where air conditioning is not needed.

During winter seasons, many of us rely on water heaters. Sometimes the switch might be left on and we might assume that the thermostat will maintain the water temperature until needed again. However, this results in significant heat loss to the environment without benefiting anyone. The introduction of smart plugs addresses this issue. Surprisingly, even major companies in the industry have yet to develop their own cloud-connected smart plugs. Instead, users are often resorting to using third-party clouds, including those from China and other sources.

You can easily set a timer for your water heater usage, like scheduling it to run between 7:30 AM and 11:30 AM. By implementing this timer, the water heater will automatically switch on at 7:30 AM. We can also utilise geotagging to further customise its operation. Furthermore, there is an override button that allows manual control, and the system provides detailed energy usage information, including kilowatt-hour consumption on a daily and monthly basis. This digitised approach encourages users to be more mindful of their energy consumption and emphasises that energy bills are not free.

Prabhat Goel shares that when people complain about high energy bills, it is often because they are unaware of their energy usage. Digitizing energy information and providing it to consumers can lead to reduced power consumption. This underscores the importance of educating individuals about energy production, the environmental impacts of energy sources like coal, and methods for conserving energy.

Predictive maintenance

Goutham Pitchikala, Project Lead Consultant, ESKAYEM Consultants thinks that both BMS and IoT systems should be capable of providing alerts for deviations from standard operating procedures. Considering an air handling unit, it is designed to run at a specific RPM but has been operating at a different RPM for several days, it could indicate an issue or potential malfunction in the system. This highlights the importance of metering and monitoring in achieving energy efficiency. By tracking energy consumption under different conditions, necessary actions can be taken to reduce consumption and improve efficiency. Deviations from standard procedures, such as a fan running at a higher or lower RPM than usual, serve as indicators of potential issues that require attention. This allows for predictive maintenance to be performed before a complete system failure occurs.

The main challenges lie in infrastructure development, upscaling, and raising awareness. However, humans are adaptable, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of technologies like UPI without formal training. Similarly, creating awareness about the benefits of energy efficiency and IoT systems will be crucial. Energy efficiency not only reduces energy consumption but also minimises downtime and enables preventive and predictive maintenance. Therefore, addressing infrastructure, awareness, and upskilling is essential to progress in implementing IoT systems and advancing energy efficiency efforts.

Goutham Pitchikala, Project Lead Consultant, ESKAYEM Consultants

“Proactive maintenance by alerting deviations and preventing system failures for sustainable building management can be achieved by Digitalizing HVAC.”

Prabhat Goel, Industry and Technical Advisor, Eurovent Certita Certification

“Digitalising HVAC systems unlocks significant energy savings and promotes accountability, paving the way towards achieving net-zero emissions and decarbonisation goals.”

Sureshkumar T V, Controls Fulfillment Leader + Tech support & Training, Trane Technologies.

“Integration of diverse monitoring devices in HVAC along with robust encryption, ensures data security and user-friendly reporting, vital for effective digitalisation.”

Mr. Sandip Vardam, Education Committee Chair, INBAC Association

“Designing HVAC systems for worst-case scenarios is crucial for operational efficiency, requiring adaptable control systems and user understanding to maintain performance.”

Harshad Panchal, Sr Project Manager – HVAC, Digital Connexion

“Addressing infrastructure, awareness, and upskilling is essential for advancing energy efficiency efforts and implementing IoT systems effectively in various sectors.”

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