15 Mar 2021

Editor Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software and other technologies to facilitate connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.

Use of the IoT is expanding among both business and residential applications. However, there are hurdles to overcome, including security, privacy and networking challenges. As more HVAC devices embrace the IoT, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the HVAC market?

Jason Pelski Johnson Controls

IoT technologies such as digital twins are helping to make HVAC systems smarter and more efficient. A digital twin is a connected, digital replica of a physical product, asset or system that is used to simulate, test and predict future processes. Digital twins collect data from a variety of HVAC equipment, including chillers, AHUs, VAV boxes, heat pumps and more, and then develop simulations in the Cloud to minimize energy consumption, enhance preventive maintenance and help with short-term and long-term building challenges. For example, digital twins can support back-to-work solutions by creating a building pathogen profile that is used to enhance or increase air circulation patterns to replace fresh air. As a long term solution, a digital twin can overlay and track occupant locations to see how they impact IAQ and energy consumption. Older HVAC systems can use ‘bridge’ edge platforms, a low-cost gateway, to connect brownfield environment devices and retrofit older equipment (based on what data the older systems can provide).

IoT continues to develop rapidly. While many residential IoT applications are commonplace, such as smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart cameras, etc., there is an increased demand in HVAC and IoT in commercial real estate applications. One such idea is remote monitoring using HVAC systems, in combination with smart thermostats and indoor air quality products, to remotely monitor several variables in tenant-occupied spaces. One such application is managing energy efficiency of HVAC units by monitoring unit condition and preventing breakdowns before they happen, thus increasing operational and energy efficiency (as well as resident satisfaction, in multi-family communities). Many multi-family communities are using increased savings from efficient HVAC units and smart thermostats as a marketing device to attract new residents. Another application is indoor air quality monitoring, which can work in conjunction with existing HVAC units to monitor pollutants in a given space and alert a technician when an issue is detected.

As IoT technologies continue to advance within the HVAC market, a new set of challenges is forming around compliance with new and emerging cyber security laws in various states and the federal government. In 2018, California passed its IoT cyber security legislation, which requires manufacturers of IoT devices to provide 'reasonable security features'. In 2019, Oregon followed suit, passing legislation modeled on California’s rules. Meanwhile, in December of 2020, former President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 1668, The Internet of Things (IoT) Cyber security Improvement Act, which directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop standards and guidelines that will direct federal agencies on how they should use and manage IoT devices. As the HVAC industry creates more connected devices to innovate and meet market demand, we are going to have to do so while meeting new standards and protecting our customers from cyber-threats. 

The Internet of Things has huge potential in the heat network space. We are using metering technology and systems that can monitor and report scheme-wide plant room efficiency and heat loss, as well as individual consumption, for the benefit of both residents and landlords. We know that giving people access to data about their energy use reduces their consumption and recently saw a 15% drop in energy use at a large development in Croydon, just from installing digital prepayment heat meters. The positive impact goes beyond energy efficiency; it means heat suppliers can set accurate heat tariffs that their residents can have faith in. Getting this kind of data has, to date, been prohibitively expensive to many developments. However, a new generation of streamlined, pre-wired, more affordable, quick and easy-to-install pay-as-you-go (PAYG) heat metering and billing web-app solutions is arriving on the market. As IoT devices become more and more commonplace, it will become the norm to automatically optimize energy usage through things like smart radiator valves.

Editor Summary

Easy transfer of data among a variety of devices connected to the Internet is the core value proposition of the Internet of Things. As our Expert Panel Roundtable participants point out, the IoT opportunities in the HVAC market are almost endless and still in the early stages of being realized. As networked systems become more the rule than the exception, the IoT’s role will expand, along with the resulting new capabilities.