November 15, 2018

Bridging the Gap Between HVAC and the Smart Grid

By Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams

One of the things we often hear from HVAC contractors is that they feel left out of the smart grid conversation. However, there are many reasons why HVAC contractors can and should play a pivotal role in the smart grid industry. Perhaps one of the most compelling is that energy consumption by HVAC systems is directly correlated with electricity prices. Smart HVAC and intelligent energy storage systems also play a role in reducing electricity costs for consumers.

A smart grid is an integrated system of utilities, consumers, and distributed-energy resources that allows for two-way communications throughout the grid. The smart grid market is expected to surpass $400 billion worldwide by 2020. As a result, the expertise of HVAC contractors will only become more important with the ongoing development of smart homes, smart devices, and home automation systems integrated by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Configuration, Operation, and Maintenance of Smart HVAC Equipment

It’s becoming more common for HVAC systems to be equipped with sensors, microprocessors, and other IoT technology. These smart HVAC systems have features that optimize energy efficiencies in ways that weren’t possible before. As a result, HVAC contractors who are knowledgeable of smart grid technology are needed to install, manage, and maintain these systems. Some of the benefits that can be realized through the implementation of this technology include:

Optimization of building loads – Factors such as changing weather conditions and building occupancy can affect peak load at any given time. Smart HVAC equipment recognizes changes in the environmental context in which it operates and adjusts its functionality to optimize and reduce peak load.

For example, Washington State University has developed an HVAC Load Shed that changes air flow in facilities automatically based on contextual factors such as room occupancy, time of day and day of the week, and outside temperature. This way, its facilities’ HVAC systems can automatically adjust their operations to reduce wasted energy.

Communication between electricity consumers and utilities – One of the key features of smart grid technology is the two-way communication it enables between electricity consumers and utilities. HVAC contractors are needed to install and maintain this technology so that utilities can engage in load balancing and forecasting, and so that consumers can communicate data about energy usage and power outages to utilities automatically.

Verification of proper functionality of smart HVAC equipment – Malfunctioning equipment can negatively impact the energy efficiency of HVAC systems. Fortunately, they can be equipped with smart controls that detect and report on circumstances such as improper operations, low airflow, dirty heat exchangers, and other damaged or underperforming components. Once a disruption is detected by the system, it can be resolved quickly by HVAC contractors to optimize performance and reduce the risk of more significant damages later.

HVAC contractors can and should be an integral part of the smart grid conversation. Their expertise will facilitate the proliferation of smart technology in our homes, towns, and cities. The result will be enhanced energy efficiency in the grid, reduced waste and pollution, and increased quality of life in general.

About the Author

Kevin Williams is the CEO of WillCo Intelligent Stored Energy (WISE), an intelligent energy storage company with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. He has been a principal in several start-ups and has consulted with business owners at many levels. For more information, visit http://www.willcoenergy.com.

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