Published Date 10/31/18 7:00 AM
The crowded 2018 Chillventa show was a mirror image of what is happening in the HVAC/R market.
The HVAC/R sector continues to grow in volume, influenced by the increase in average temperatures, the growing need for personal well-being and the optimisation of production processes and quality of the food chain.
The consequent rising interest among industrial funds towards the sector and consolidation by industrial groups through mergers and acquisitions has supported and is continuing to support the drive to technological innovation.
We can refer to this as “smart” innovation, given that it concerns connectivity, natural refrigerants, electrification and integration with renewable energy, and simple human-machine interaction; in other words, all areas that contribute to making the undeniable opportunities offered by HVAC/R more accessible and socially acceptable.
In terms of refrigerants, at Chillventa 2018 important developments were seen regarding solutions using R32 and R452B/R454B, useful for reducing the presence of R410A during the transitional period leading up to 2021 and the next important phase-down of so-called F-Gases. (The regulation puts in place HFC phase-down from 2015 to 2030 by means of a quota system and sectorial bans on high GWP refrigerants). Even though the R452B/R454B solutions are desirable as a replacement for R410A, more interest was seen in the more economical R32 solution, above all as it is fully compatible with the value chain. However, we should underline the two problems concerning the solutions mentioned. They are in fact category A2L refrigerants, that is, slightly flammable, and therefore require precautions that don’t allow the possibility of pin-to-pin drop-in with R410A. Yet above all they are also HFCs, therefore, even if to a lesser extent, they are also subject to the phase-down that could gradually limit their use starting from 2021.
This is probably one of the reasons why we saw particular interest in natural refrigerants, CO2 and propane, now no longer limited to commercial refrigeration, but rather already tested or being adopted in HVAC, for example in the following applications:
- Active heat recovery
- Residential heat pumps
and in other niche applications, including medical.
This clearly involves a major effort in terms of design and correct value proposition to the market, as both refrigerants have obstacles that need to be overcome; however this choice allows the most innovative HVAC manufacturers to be ready before the 2021 deadline.
As concerns human-machine interaction, we saw a number of virtual and/or augmented reality solutions following on from what has been exhibited in the last two years by the American giants in the sector, aimed at facilitating service.
Lower service costs and more attentive and less invasive after-market management are among the most widely expected benefits from the introduction of IoT in HVAC/R. Implementing preventive maintenance through targeted service procedures - in terms of times and methods - is in fact something that many aim to achieve, and in this regard CAREL too at Chillventa presented various stages of development. The results of AI algorithms applied to an ever increasing number and variety of units installed are conveyed to end users and service personnel via smartphone apps, something that everyone is familiar with.
Several points relating to IoT and AI in HVAC/R were also the subject of lively discussions at the stands during Chillventa, we well as in the forums; the major players are now focusing on these issues and are working on solutions: how to profit from IoT? How to guarantee security and privacy of data management? How to avoid false alarms? How to make IP connections extensively accessible?
The quicker the response is to these questions, the more opportunities there will be for the spread of district energy networks capable of managing heating and cooling requirements. Sharing data (unit conditions, feedback on indoor and outdoor air quality, variable energy prices, etc...), backed by AI algorithms, will optimise the use of energy and how it is shared on site, while also making the most of the contribution of renewable energy sources.
Once again, in Nuremberg the HVAC/R industry in many ways confirmed that it is destined not only to be at the centre of higher energy efficiency design, but also to be its true driver.
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