What Will Be the Next Big HVAC Product Trend?
20 Aug 2020
New technologies continue to drive change in the HVAC market. HVAC’s image as a mature and stable industry can overshadow the high level of innovation taking place. Meeting environmental challenges and creating more cost-efficient systems are among the forces fueling the change. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What will be the next big product trend in the HVAC market?
We see Internet of Things (IoT) technology continuing to grow in the HVAC industry. We are already experiencing growth as it relates to IoT in thermostats, and we see diagnostic IoT playing a much bigger role in upcoming HVAC trends. It’s still relatively new, but with benefits that include remote monitoring, reduced callbacks and the enablement of more advanced, accurate troubleshooting, we see the use of diagnostics growing. Proactive and preventative maintenance is becoming increasingly important as contractors are seeking to do more with less, and a “know-before-you-go” solution gives them the HVAC system data necessary to predict and diagnose problems before they become critical. Diagnostic IoT also enables contractors to identify the right person for the job, and ensure the right parts are on the truck, prior to arriving, which optimizes efficiencies and contractor credibility with customers.
There are several reasons we believe computer-controlled infrared heating is the next big product trend in the HVAC market. Firstly, it is highly efficient. Its energy usage and emissions are at a comparable level with air source heat pumps, and it also has the added benefit of 40% lower installation costs. Additional benefits include the system being uniquely compatible with flexi tariffs – as well as solar and batteries – as energy is drawn at a 24/7 “trickle,” avoiding morning and evening energy spikes. Also, as it warms fabrics, rather than air, infrared heating provides a more comfortable experience, helping to reduce damp and mold, and the circulation of dust and allergens. If the UK wants to hit its target of net zero carbon emission by 2050, decarbonizing heat is the major challenge. Now is the time to embrace innovation – and why technologies like infrared heating have a crucial role to play.
There is no one single trend that stands out, but several that will have profound effects. The trend for increasing “modularization” of HVAC products, with standardized factory fitted controls, will continue, as all players (manufacturers, contractors, etc.) seek to reduce on-site costs and simplify delivery of working systems. Another accelerating trend is the desire for easy remote access to sites for performance monitoring, alarms and fault diagnostics. Both factors require more sophisticated but easy-to-configure controls software with secure remote connectivity. A newer trend, accelerating since the widespread adoption of IP connectivity, and the increasing availability of more powerful “edge” electronics hardware, is the disaggregation of the software and hardware required for HVAC control; previously each manufacturer would develop their own proprietary solutions. Specialist software suppliers will increasingly provide the basis for the controls systems, customized for each manufacturer’s needs and running embedded on “standard” hardware platforms.
I don’t think many would disagree that the most talked about trend in the HVAC market is smart technology. Smart technology like mobile apps allow building managers to control HVAC technology from one centralized point. With this smart technology, HVAC will be able to identify and alert building managers when maintenance is needed or assets have failed to operate. Also, DeVAP (Desiccant Enhanced Evaporate) is becoming a significant topic in the sustainability discussion. DeVAP sits alongside the more traditional sustainability methods such as solar and geothermal leading the way for environmentally friendly HVAC use. It cools the air using an evaporative cooling system whereby water is run into a honeycomb media and a fan is blown through the honeycomb, causing the water to evaporate. The desiccant substance is used to absorb humidity from the cooled air to create dry air and a cooling effect similar to a traditional AC unit.
In terms of heat generators, the time has come for air source heat pumps. UK installations rose by 28% to about 28,000 units in 2019, and – supported by the government’s drive for fossil-fuel heating to be replaced by low-carbon solutions in all homes built after 2025 – researchers forecast that the UK heat pump market will double in size by 2025. Responding to this, Viessmann has just entered the monobloc air source heat pump market with the Vitocal 100-A model. Besides new build opportunities, we are seeing a sizeable opportunity to convert rural homes with oil boilers, to heat pumps. The government’s recently-launched Green Homes Grant is great news for these homes because it provides financial support for home improvement measures such as insulation and windows, thereby paving the way for low temperature heating systems to be installed and operate efficiently, such as heat pumps.
In the commercial HVAC space, we have observed a trend toward more efficient building automation systems. Facility managers and HVAC contractors alike are in search of management platforms that demystify VRF systems and simplify troubleshooting for medium-sized and light commercial spaces. Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS) took notice of this growing interest and developed a solution in Building Connect+ (BCP), a contractor-friendly cloud control option that requires no special tools or software — just a web browser and a laptop. This system enables users to remotely monitor and control various functions throughout the building. It offers access to energy and performance data — an important element to help improve overall system efficiency and energy savings. As integrated solutions and IP-based controls systems continue to progress, we anticipate more streamlined management of buildings of all types — from multifamily housing to office buildings — as well as simplified comfort control for building occupants.
The internet of things (IoT), more edge electronics and cloud controls are among the factors enabling easier management of HVAC systems and easier integration with other building automation systems. Beyond innovation in controls, newer technologies such as heat pumps, computer-controlled infrared heating and desiccant-enhanced evaporate cooling are mentioned by our panelists as significant product trends. Finally, one panelist mentioned greater modularization of HVAC products, which will simplify installation and maintenance and continue to impact the market for years to come.