If you follow this industry, you’ll hear and read about a million innovations coming onstream. PTACs, remote and wireless controls, connectivity between air conditioning and everything else in the world . . . .We’ve covered a few of them on this site: http://www.acdoctor.com/blog/
But the real sea change is occurring in more fundamental ways. And it is, basically, simple. Instead of using fossil fuels and elaborate wiring/ductwork/distribution . . . the new wave of HVAC technology uses materials that exist benignly all around us. Water. Sunlight. Air. Now that’s genius.
West Coasters lead the way
California tends to lead in these matters. For instance, there’s a company in Arcata, north of San Francisco, that specializes in ZNE (Zero-Net-Energy) for apartment buildings. The goal of ZNE is to produce as much or more energy than is consumed. One of the partners at Arcata-based Redwood Energy, Sean Armstrong, says these buildings are meant to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution. Their system, used at multi-family affordable housing projects such as Mutual Housing California, takes hot or cold energy from the air and feeds it into water (not refrigerants, which have environmental issues) to produce hot or cool water that moderates the apartment temperature.
Sophistication and simple elegance
As with many things that look or sound simple, the technology is sophisticated. (Take the MacIntosh, for instance. The first Macs seemed deceptively primitive because of their highly-engineered design.) Conventional electric heaters produce 1,000 watts of heat for every 1,000 watts of electricity. A heat pump produces 3,000 to 5,000 watts of heat for every 1,000 watts of electricity.
Moreover, each apartment is equipped with a color-coded sensor to let the occupants know how much energy they are consuming. Yellow means they are treading water (consuming an average amount). If the sensor turns red, it means the occupants are over-consuming. If it turns green, they’re using less than the average. Since residents won’t pay utility bills if they stay within the average, there is an incentive for them to keep it in the green zone.
It’s a glimpse of a future where energy conservation and clean energy become the default setting. Residents or occupants won’t have to shop for special devices; each home will be equipped with smart technology.
The market for this type of building is projected to grow by 50 percent by 2018, led by countries in Asia where there is the most demand for new housing. It’s a drop in the bucket right now, compared with conventional building techniques but innovation has a way of following the money. Now that’s ground-zero for optimism.