Published Date 2/14/19 7:30 AM
2019 has got off with a bang: none other than Richard Branson has dedicated a post on his blog to something we think about at CAREL every single day: what future do we want to create for the air-conditioning industry, a sector worth over 100 billion dollars and that is above all such an integral part of our everyday lives that we almost take it for granted? It’s an effective provocation, and indeed by defining the level of efficiency achieved by the most common air-conditioners as “pathetic”, he has focused the spotlight on the topic of innovation and the impact of one of the most energy-intensive sectors in the world.
Let’s then stop for a moment and extend our considerations to the entire HVAC/R market and to the main trends that we can identify:
The sense of urgency expressed by the visionary founder of Virgin is thus clearly amplified.
What can we do, and what are we already doing? Do we necessarily need to wait for the advent of “disruptive innovation”, or do we already have solutions available that can considerably increase the efficiency of our air-conditioning and refrigeration systems? Our answer is surely the latter, provided that we widen the playing field and extend it beyond the single unit to examine (as a minimum) the system as a whole and (possibly) more complex and connected realities! The first step is now here in many cases, starting with the introduction of advanced control logic and continuing with the introduction of more advanced technologies (from electronic expansion valves, to modulating actuators and variable-capacity compressors), capable of optimising unit operation in different conditions. A continuous and important evolution, yet one that alone is not enough to achieve the revolutionary goals that we need to set for a sustainable future. The true leap forward will probably lie in the ability to combine different technologies, such as evaporative cooling and the refrigeration cycle. And in the possibility - now concrete thanks to modern infrastructure (IoT) - to optimise system operation in real time and connect them to the Internet, so as to exploit the availability of energy in a “smart” way, especially when this comes from renewable sources.
However, when tackling the issue from this point of view, it is immediately clear that currently the technological factor is important, yet not the only one: technology can help bring a change of pace, and today offers concrete, efficient possibilities, however these are good in theory (or, at best, when a legislative requirement) if not supported by a cultural revolution involving system designers, consultants, customers...
All the players in the supply chain need to be aware that a sustainable approach to HVAC/R systems is not only just a question of ethics, but also, in the majority of cases, is economically advantageous when the return on investment is correctly calculated.
Of course, the right tools and some investment in training and education are needed: while the battle is fought on the retail price of a single HVAC/R unit, it will be very hard not to be “pathetic”. The true innovation will therefore be for everyone to start thinking beyond the costs of installation, and start considering the operation and disposal costs and the tangible value (i.e. increased productivity) of a healthy and comfortable working environment... the road is long, but we have already started the journey.