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HVAC and the Internet of Things


Tomorrow is coming fast, but HVAC still needs attention

At Climate Control Services, we don’t usually talk much about science fiction. We are more interested in what our customers need, and how we can best meet those needs and give customers what they want. And the Internet of Things (IoT) has seemed like science fiction. It’s also seemed dangerous; we’ve seen reports of criminals who hacked people’s garage door openers and let themselves into houses they should not have been in. Sounds like the sort of thing sensible people stay away from.

Nevertheless, the IoT is here and it isn’t going away. The latest report we’ve seen says that there are already 15.4 billion IoT devices installed and in just four years’ time there’ll be twice that number. And it becomes interesting to anybody in our business because a start-up company in California called Tekpea has patented a system for converting the protocols that utilities use to monitor electricity, gas and water usage to TCP/IP, which is the protocol that passes data and information up and down to the Internet. They call what they are doing, “Connecting Continuous Process Industry to the Cloud.” What Tekpea are talking about is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which is a close relation of the Internet of Things but one that generates money (often in large amounts) for the people who use it.

So it seems that even a family-owned and family-run HVAC company in northern Illinois needs to be aware of the Internet of Things because it’s going to affect our customers, and what affects our customers matters to us.

What is there that we and our customers need to know? Well, first of all, we need to know that, increasingly, the meters that register our use of electricity, gas and water will have monitoring devices in them. The monitoring devices for a whole subdivision will be connected – by cable, by Wi-Fi, by something – the information they collect about how much power and water each consumer has used will be collected together, and it will be transmitted to the utility so that we can all be charged the correct amount. This is called Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI). It’s being used here in America; it’s being installed in Colombia; it’s been in operation in remote areas of India for some time. It’s not the future; it’s the present.

AMI will allow the utilities to get our bills out faster and to be sure they are right. But it will also offer help to us, because smart devices are at the heart of the Internet of Things, and we as consumers will receive guidance on how we can reduce our energy consumption. That will be forced on the utilities, because it’s in the national interest and government wants it to happen. It may not simply be guidance, either – it will almost certainly be possible to sign up to programs that allow the system in our home to run devices when energy usage is lower and therefore the price to us will also be reduced.

There’s more. It won’t only be the utilities’ meters that can send information up the line – the manufacturers of our furnaces, our air conditioning units and every other domestic appliance we have will be able to do the same. Their ability to communicate is already there – that’s what the IoT means – but given what Tekpea offers, which is the ability to send information to the cloud, it will be possible for the manufacturer to detect a malfunction or a potential failure before the homeowner has any knowledge of it at all. We, as HVAC installers and maintainers, can certainly see the advantage in knowing before our customer experiences an equipment outage that there is a problem, and that we have a way to fix it.

It’s a brave new world, and we are probably lucky to be living in it. However, there is still a life to be lived with the equipment we have. If you’d like to meet to discuss your present setup, how it could be improved and how, potentially, we can save you money, get in touch. That’s what we’re here for.

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