How does emerging technology change building systems?

Like all areas of technology, there is rapid innovation and convergence happening in the field of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems.

The technology is getting smarter, with mobile apps that can control HVAC systems from a central point, receive maintenance alerts and even raise work orders for maintenance. IoT, the Internet of Things, is becoming more and more prevalent. Smart sensors can detect things like humidity, temperature, and motion, feeding that data back to a Building Management System (BMS) that can remotely control various items of plant.

Big data is becoming increasingly available and useful. The data from a BMS can be mined and analysed, bringing opportunities for machine learning, such as when a system is able to predict how system efficiencies or anomalies will impact overall performance.

New SAAS solutions relevant to the property sector include CRM systems that monitor people’s relationship with a building and their comfort preferences.

At the crunchy end of engineering, huge advances are being made in photovoltaic systems that convert light into electricity, solar and geothermal energy tech, new technologies like DeVap (Desiccant Enhanced eVaporative cooling), and new eco-friendly refrigerants with low Ozone Depletion Potential.

Everything is evolving, fast, how do we know what to use? Or do we stick with tried and true, older technologies? The simple reality is that demand for energy efficiency and user-centric environments is only going to grow. HVAC technology needs to move forward to meet that demand.

Consider this: buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption. Nearly half of that is commercial buildings. In short, buildings are energy hungry.

It is the HVAC systems doing the consuming, too. In a typical Auckland CBD office building, 52% of all energy consumed is for heating and cooling. That is significant – but so are the potential savings. With the right technology and systems, the typical commercial office building has the potential to make energy savings of between 20 and 40%.

But that requires a commitment to emerging technology, not sticking with the same-old same-old. It means tapping into new, smart, environmentally friendly technologies and using them to their full potential. New refrigerants can replace the old ozone-depleting ones. Advanced motor technology has delivered faster, more efficient machinery. System diagnostics software, cloud-based systems and IoT mean there is huge amounts of information, adaptability and customisation ability at our fingertips.

All this does not just happen, though. It requires expertise and training. Education is required for designers, engineers, building owners, property managers, facility managers and tenants in order to take full advantage of the new tech possibilities.

It’s also complex to plan. Building Information modelling is in its infancy. It’s transforming how buildings are modelled, engineered, constructed, managed and maintained but there is much more it will be able to do over time.

What advanced tech also does is raise expectations. When data exists, tenants are more likely to be more demanding about information, expecting more transparency around energy consumption, health, and wellbeing, and building sustainability. For businesses adopting a triple bottom line approach to their reporting, there will be an increasing expectation that a building they lease is well designed, energy efficient and operating in a way that earns it a GreenStar or NABERSNZ rating.

There are risks, too. Lack of training can mean technology is misused or underutilised. Technology can be expensive and complicated. But it is riskier not to change. There is the risk of being left behind, or having a building or business exposed for poor management or poor operations. There is the reputational damage that can come from something like a legionella outbreak or COVID being transmitted via old and outdated HVAC systems.

When looking long term at the full lifecycle of a building, it becomes clear that emerging technology ultimately improves building performance and can reduce long term cost.

For example, new generation refrigerants can mean replacing an old chiller unit is the smarter option rather than simply repairing it, to get optimal performance from it. New state of the art equipment and systems open the door to non-hardware solutions like SaaS services and BMS systems that allow for continuous monitoring, reporting and optimisation. Emerging technology allows building management to become much more proactive, rather than reactive, which leads to happier tenants.

The possibilities are endless – and complex. That is why you should talk to Jackson’s if you want to explore what could work for you. We are the local experts, providing training and education around new HVAC technologies to the New Zealand industry. Building Management Systems are central to the integration of many of the new advances, and our experienced, senior engineers have more BMS work than anyone in New Zealand.

Learning and implementing new technologies is simply the continuation of what we have always done, working in the built environment and feeding what we learn back into our design work.

It comes down to experience and a holistic view of plant design and operation. We understand that technology is there to serve the end user. If it improves the experience of the building, optimising its performance and making the building manager look like a star, we’re all for it.