AI and HVAC: Better Efficiency and Air Quality with Reduced Operational Cost

4 mins read
Artificial Intelligence
A man holding a sticky note with the words A.I.

HVAC Systems have High Energy Use and Seldom Achieve Best Air Quality, Comfort, and Efficiency

HVAC systems are major users of energy, typically exceeding all other building systems combined. In fact, HVAC systems account for about half the energy used in commercial buildings.

HVAC systems have historically been designed as fixed setups having some manual adjustment, or at best programmed for the average, expected environment. These older systems waste money and energy, but they were the best available at the time. Now, AI-powered systems can minimize this high energy consumption by analyzing usage patterns and then optimizing, in real time, HVAC settings. AI system optimization can substantially reduce energy consumption and lower operational energy costs.

AI Improves Occupant Comfort and Indoor Air Quality

Artificial intelligence is rapidly moving into HVAC applications because it can improve operating cost, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and comfort. AI can optimize environmental variables such as airflow, temperature, and humidity—to maximize the available benefits while minimizing energy use.

Artificial intelligence refers to the ability of computing systems to acquire patterns of knowledge from data and generate decisions informed by those patterns. Machine learning is the critical component of artificial intelligence through which a machine develops an understanding of patterns from data which it then uses to adjust control settings. Going beyond that, AI also facilitates predictive control: the ability to pre-adjust the building operation in anticipation of changing internal and external conditions.

Relatively recent advances in sensors and data storage allow HVAC systems to collect and analyze huge quantities of internal and external data, making it possible to use machine learning and AI algorithms to improve HVAC system efficiency. Artificial intelligence control software collects masses of data from machines, sensors, and other external sources, but the real power of an AI system comes from its underlying analysis algorithms. Once the collected data is analyzed in combination with weather forecasts and other external data it can be used to adjust control settings to satisfy HVAC needs.

By creating predictive control models that adjust and optimize HVAC system operations, machine learning and AI are set to create extremely efficient building energy management and control systems that revolutionize the HVAC industry. Eventually, the result will be self-operating buildings providing high cost-efficiency and optimal occupant comfort.

AI Improves Maintenance and System Operation

AI serves as a transformative factor shifting HVAC system operation and maintenance from a solely reactive stance to a proactive one.
Integrating new AI systems can appear costly as it usually involves replacing hardware and modifying existing systems to work with the new AI technologies, but—even ignoring marketable efficiency and comfort gains—ongoing operational costs can compensate, as fully automated HVAC systems require much less time and labor to maintain.

HVAC systems require maintenance. AI-powered systems, through analysis of historical data, can be used to predict when maintenance should be performed. This practically eliminates unscheduled downtime and disruption. Predictive maintenance will often increase the operational lifespan of an HVAC system.

AI can help troubleshoot HVAC system issues because it has already analyzed normal operational system performance data and thus can recognize and highlight emerging anomalies. This immediately focuses diagnostics onto the specific problem area to affect repairs quickly and precisely, minimizing costs and occupant impacts. AI systems reduce operations and maintenance costs of buildings.

Energy-saving systems are better controlled by AI. A classic example is economizers—these provide “free cooling” when the outside conditions are appropriate. AI is very well suited for real-time control of economizers. AI control of energy recovery ventilators is another fertile area being investigated.

AI Improves Customer and Field Service Communication

AI-enabled communications can facilitate the HVAC predictive and preventive maintenance capability sketched out above. In the residential market AI technology is becoming easier to integrate with smart home systems, potentially allowing these systems to call for service as needed. At all levels, AI-assisted communications are faster and always available, which helps to build a better relationship with customers.

For dealers and other service providers, AI will be getting more involved in sales and inventory functions as well as sending reminder notes to customers, service follow-up information, and any other standard messaging. AI-powered HVAC systems enable highly efficient resource use.

AI is a growing revolution.

AI systems can adapt and improve over time by continuously learning from data and user feedback, ensuring that HVAC operations become even more proactive and efficient.

Owners and operators of buildings who adopt HVAC AI can effectively automate control adjustments, system diagnostics, and communication processes. Consequently, they will enhance occupant satisfaction, reduce energy consumption, enhance sustainability efforts, and attain improved profitability.

“AI is the defining technology of our times.”

Satya NadellaCEO Microsoft