HVAC technologies face an uphill battle for adoption by a conservative building industry.
That is the findings of a report by Lux Research titled “Uncovering Attractive Innovations in HVAC Amidst Evolutionary Growth,” It surveyed the field of incumbent and emerging HVAC technologies and well as reviewing the geographical, regulatory, and economic factors influencing adoption - assessing which systems and components are best positioned for future growth.
It states that building HVAC systems consume 13 per cent of all primary energy generated globally, and that more energy-efficient HVAC equipment, including advanced heat pumps, absorption chillers, evaporative chillers, and condensing boilers need to be taken up.
Furthermore, it points to the demand for component technologies that improve the operational cost or performance of existing HVAC equipment, including variable speed compressors, electronic expansion valves, advanced humidity removal, heat recycling, variable frequency drives, and thermal energy storage.
“While some builders and owners will choose to install whole new, cutting-edge HVAC systems, occupants and building managers will favor lower-cost incremental component solutions that improve efficiency of their existing systems,” said Jaideep Raje, a Lux Research Senior Analyst and a contributing author of the report. “Component technologies demonstrate the quickest return on investment, smoothing their path to adoption.”
The report evaluates HVAC systems and components separately and scores technologies on their technical value and maturity. It then plots each technology’s relative potential on a matrix comprising four quadrants: Current Winners, Future Winners, Long-Shot, and Faded Incumbents.
Among its key findings:
- Advanced HVAC systems are seeing incremental adoption. Yesterday’s steam-heated boilers and standard furnaces are slowly giving way to more efficient gas-fired furnaces and condensing boilers, as well as new technologies like radiant heating and advanced heat-pumps. Heat pumps show particular potential when coupled with water heaters, as this approach – from companies like Cool Sound Industries, WhisperGen, and Disenco – combines the efficiency of electrically driven pumps with advanced absorption cycles.
- Opportunities abound for advanced HVAC components to show their value. Simplicity can shorten the path to adoption, as illustrated by component-level solutions such as variable frequency drives (VFDs) and expansion valves. Rated a Current Winner, low-cost VFDs enable compressors to pump only what is needed for specific applications, significantly improving the efficiency of chillers; most see payback periods of 2.5 years or less. Expansion valves, meanwhile, rank among the Future Winners, thanks to their ability to reduce energy consumption of air conditioning systems and boilers and their very attractive payback periods.
- The value of integrated HVAC technologies can exceed the sum of their parts. Many of the report’s highest ranked HVAC technologies can deliver even better returns when combined. Using expansion valves with membrane-based air-quality and humidity-control technologies, for example, can reduce HVAC energy consumption by 40% without a significant capital cost. Developers that can pool the value of their HVAC technologies through integration will also see their commercial opportunities multiply.
“Uncovering Attractive Innovations in HVAC Amidst Evolutionary Growth,” is part of the Lux Green Buildings Intelligence service.