HVAC Cloud-Based Controls and Analytics
Written By Caitlin Dunn

The HPAC Engineering article, “Cloud-Connected HVAC Systems Are at the Core of Smart Facilities,” sums it up: “You can’t have a smart facility without a connected HVAC system.”

Given that a commercial building’s HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) accounts for 44 percent of its “energy consumption and is central to occupant comfort,” it’s safe to say that optimal operation of HVAC is critical. Everything needs to work, seemingly without delay, in order to ensure that a workplace in that building, for instance, will run smoothly.

Simple one-way optimization of an HVAC system is effective and can save upwards of 25% in operating costs. You may achieve more efficiency, better output and better usage of electricity and money. However, only two-way optimization of a building’s HVAC system can account for “real-time monitoring, analysis, maintenance, and fine-tuning.”

Essentially, one-way optimization helps, but you may never know in what ways it helped. You’re solving problems, but it’s impossible to learn from those problems if you don’t know what’s causing them. The performance feedback is key.

Without connection of your system’s data to an optimization provider through the cloud, your one-way optimized process will perform well for a year or two. But as equipment ages, performance erodes, and you won’t see that happening until you notice you’re not saving as much money as you used to. That original 25% savings in operating costs could gradually decrease to around 13%. “Without the external “brain” a cloud connection provides,” the article says, “the falloff can go unnoticed for quite a while” and end up costing the facility thousands of dollars.

Two-way HVAC optimization, which establishes a connection between an HVAC plant and an optimization provider, is complicated, but new equipment and components are coming online all the time to better connect with control software. Data on ongoing operations of the building’s automation system can be collected and uploaded to the cloud, analyzed by the optimization system provider, and fluctuations in the HVAC system can be adjusted for as operations are improved.

When employing two-way optimization, a company’s optimization provider is able to watch for errors, failing components and other invisible fluctuations which may cause issues. Not only can they view these, but they can also “access the installed optimization solution, use the data to troubleshoot the equipment, improve sequencing, and adapt set points to meet environmental parameters as they change.”

Benefits of using connected optimization software include:

  • assurance of continual reductions in energy-use and cost,
  • improved system efficiency,
  • better equipment control, and
  • quicker turnover for maintenance.

Of course, plugging into the cloud costs money and involves technology that you may not be familiar with. However, for maximum cost savings from an intelligent building, it’s worth the investment.

With all of this in mind, technology continues to advance and keep pace. The article points out that machine learning is already automating the optimization process with additional cost savings of 5% or more. Keep a look out for artificial intelligence operating dynamic sequencing – turning equipment on or off depending on weather, occupancy and system load. You never know: your next building project could be your smartest facility ever.

If you’re interested in other MEP industry innovations, tune in to the MEP Masterminds virtual event series. With topics like prefabrication, mentoring, collaboration, and embracing disruption, this forum is a professional online source for learning about the developments and technologies that can help you meet the business challenges facing your company and the MEP industry.

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