Where will the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry be in one year? How about five years? It may be smarter. It may be greener. One thing is for certain: the Internet of Things (IoT) will play an important role.
Twenty years ago many companies were caught off-guard with the phenomenal popularity and rapid growth of the Internet. Those with the foresight to register domain names with their brands and trademarks in a timely manner had a foundation for online e-commerce and brand continuation that could be built upon and adapted over time. They had an online presence in a much less cluttered online world, and the potential to dominate their respective markets.
Those that dismissed the Internet as a fad had to catch-up, and in some cases, endured lengthy legal disputes and buybacks of domain names from cybersquatters.
In 1995, the Internet was here to stay. In 2015, the Internet of Things, likewise, is here to stay. Once again, history is repeating itself as early adopters in many industries, including HVAC, gain market success while their competitors wonder, “Is this a fad?”
Early adopters of any trend bear the brunt of the risk. But, at a certain point, a trend declines or becomes the new norm. The Internet of Things is here to stay, and it’s about to take-off in a big way.
According to Gartner, 6.4 billion connected “things” will be in use by 2016 – 5.5 million added every day – while services spending will reach $235 billion, up 22% from 2015.
“IoT services are the real driver of value in IoT, and increasing attention is being focused on new services by end-user organizations and vendors,” says Jim Tully, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
“Aside from connected cars, consumer uses will continue to account for the greatest number of connected things, while enterprise will account for the largest spending,” Tully added. “Connected things for specialised use are currently the largest category, however, this is quickly changing with the increased use of generic devices. By 2020, cross-industry devices [such as connected light bulbs, HVAC and building management systems] will dominate the number of connected things used in the enterprise.”
By 2020, the number of connected things is forecast to increase to 20.8 billion.
Consumers – increasingly aware of the value of the IoT – are taking control of their heating and air conditioning with innovative new products designed to bridge the gap between machines and people, and even convert the mundane into something fun.
In 2013, British Gas introduced Hive Active Heating to its customers, enabling them to remotely control their heating via a smartphone app. In 2015, the introduction of a dashboard of features with Hive Active Heating 2, promises additional remote control of motion sensors, windows and door sensors, as well as lighting.
In 2011, Nest Labs introduced the Nest Learning Thermostat – a self-learning, sensor-driven thermostat that allows users to not only remotely control the heating of their homes, but also learns a user’s habits and preferences. In 2014, Nest Labs was bought by Google. In 2015, they are already producing their third generation thermostat, and are a market leader in smart thermostats.
In 2012, Con Edison and ThinkEco introduced coolNYC, a device that allows New Yorkers to take control of their air conditioning from anywhere, and keep their costs and energy usage down. With over six million window air conditioners in New York City, the strain on the electricity grid during summer is immense. The civically-minded user can optionally participate in coolNYC Events, in which their air conditioner’s power output is temporarily – and automatically – reduced when the electricity grid is under strain.
The Internet of Things is changing business models across all industries, and HVAC is no exception. Where once HVAC was an install-and-repair service, it now has the potential to become a complete end-to-end solution; connecting devices, allowing them to talk to each other – with HVAC sensors talking to HVAC controls, and vice versa – capturing actionable data, and saving time and resources.
On its current trajectory, HVAC coupled with IoT is primed to become more than heating, ventilation and air conditioning; it may yet merge into a smart building management solution. Only time will tell.
As more manufacturers embrace the emerging reality of IoT, consumer expectations are rising accordingly. For some, history will repeat itself – just as the Internet became the ‘fad’ that wouldn’t go away – and opportunities will be missed. Yet, for others, opportunities and innovation await.
But, whatever the future holds for HVAC, one thing is certain: it will involve the Internet of Things.