HPAC Magazine

IoT-Squared

By Curtis Bennett   

Cooling Heating HPAC General HVAC Systems Hydronics btu meters buildings technology

It has been reported that there are over 35.8 billion IoT devices installed worldwide.

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is a vastly growing industry in our increasingly connected world, not just in HVAC but in all industries and all aspects of our lives.

It has been reported that there are over 35.8 billion IoT devices installed worldwide now, and that’s expected to grow to over 75 billion by 2025.

Data centres around the world are storing vast amounts of information, not only the data gathered from IoT devices but companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, IBM and Apple are gathering massive volumes of data that are hard to comprehend.

The data centres being built now take around 100MW to run. That’s MEGAWATTS. To put that in perspective that is enough electricity to power 80,000 to 100,000 homes!

And that’s just for data storage and calculating power, it does not account for the power used by the technology that connects all the IoT devices together. Connected technology is the way the world is moving, and I think IoT is important to the future of this industry as well.

I wrote an article about a year ago now (HPAC, March 2021) on the topic of Btu meters, or thermal energy meters. I explored what they are, how they work with hydronic heating systems in multi-family residential buildings and also why we need them in North America.

In this article I want to talk about the IoT future of not only Btu metering but a lot of devices in our field.

First, let’s consider what IoT devices may be lurking in our homes today. Do you have a smart phone? Do you walk around with it in your pocket? Do you own a smart watch? These devices are gathering data all the time.

For example: “How many steps have you walked today?” While these devices show you how many steps you’ve taken, they also know where you walk, when you walk, and if you walk fast or run. Patterns start to emerge from this data, and that’s the good stuff. The stuff that manufacturers and marketers want.

Who has an Alexa in their house, or Google home? How many times have you just been sitting there and the device says, “Sorry I didn’t hear that.” But you didn’t even say anything.

Or do you have Siri on your phone. I think these kinds of data gathering tools play on the edges of privacy issues, but we let them in. They make our lives easier, they do, they really do. But there is a price we pay for that convenience.

My point is that there are IoT devices everywhere around you­—they have been here for a while and they already have you!

Ok, so how does this relate to HVAC?

Well, I forgot to mention the largest thermostat company in the world, NEST. They were bought by Google, not because Google wanted to get into the heating business, but because those thermostats gather data.

Data that could perhaps be sold to other businesses, like duct cleaning or furnace maintenance companies. Or this data could be integrated into algorithms so that when you search items on the web it already knows some information about you, so you can be more easily targeted for ads.

Boilers are also coming equipped with connections to the internet. Valves are being connected, zone controls, boiler controls, all sorts of items in our industry are already connected—already gathering data.

These ‘smart’ devices make things easier for installers, maintenance contractors and facility managers. This is where it gets cool. At least for me because I get to make these devices.

Being connected is not a bad thing, it gives both contractors and end users the ability to do things easier.

There is an “App” for that. You want it hotter in your basement, open the App and turn up the heat.

You want to see what the boiler temperature is or what the temperature in each of your zones is, look at the App.

How much water you have used in the past three days? Look at the App.

Not to sound too cliché, but information is power. This leads us to thermal energy metering in multi-family residential buildings.

If you put Btu meters in buildings you can uncover an awful lot of information. Not only will you know the amount of energy used in each metered location, which is the primary function of the Btu meter, but you could see the fluid pressure in every room, the temperature in every room, the flow rate in every room.

A building owner would be able to see what time of the day the energy is being used, how much energy, and how much one suite is using compared to the others in the building.

Building owners and facility managers can see a lot of information that will help keep tabs on the health of the building’s heating or cooling system. And tenants would also be able to see how they are using energy and modify their behaviours to be more energy efficient.

I need to put one caveat here: this information can’t be gathered with today’s traditional thermal energy metering devices.

Like I had said before in the previous article, for retrofit situations, most conventional metering devices don’t accommodate the hydronic heat emitting devices found in many multi-family residential buildings, like fin tube radiators for example.

Not only because of the size of the metering devices, but because of wiring and temperature probe length restrictions.

So the new generation of thermal energy meters will be smaller and connected, and they will be capable of gathering all the information that building owners will need.

The very core of our industry is about providing comfort in the most efficient way possible. Hydronics industry pros know that hot water heating is more efficient than forced air heating. This does not mean we stop there, we need to provide our customers with tools they can use to create the most efficient heating solutions for their buildings.

Yes it’s a tall order, but the devices are here.

Btu meters, and for that matter flow meters on hot and cold water in a building, are becoming essential information, and that’s why they are being talked about more and more.

Well actually, I think we are past the talking stage and we are in the beginnings of the implementation stage.

As I’ve also stated before, these connected, smart thermal energy metering devices are the final frontier of billable areas for these building owners, and these owners are seemingly the ones pushing to get these devices into their buildings, not only at the design stage of new builds but also as retrofits into existing facilities.

It’s an opportunity for those contractors who embrace the technology, become subject matter experts, learn the standards and codes in your jurisdiction and build out metering installation and maintenance programs for developers and building owners.

Ok, I got in a little deep. I am passionate about this stuff. I really like helping our industry make devices to save energy.

If you are wondering more about how the big tech companies use your IoT data, which you gather for them, check out the movie called the Social Dilemma on Netflix. LOL, Netflix is another one. They track every show you watch, and how often you binge, so they can keep us glued to the couches in our comfortable homes. <>

troubleCurtis Bennett C.E.T is the product development manager with HBX Control Systems Inc. in Calgary. He formed HBX Control Systems with Tom Hermann in 2002. Its control systems are designed, engineered and manufactured in Canada to accommodate a range of hydronic heating and cooling needs commonly found in residential, commercial and industrial design applications.

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