Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proving to have promising applications in the construction industry. Seeing how HVAC systems contribute to the largest share of energy consumption in commercial and residential buildings, energy efficiency measures that target HVAC can help achieve major savings. AI can help improve both energy efficiency as well as indoor air quality by optimizing airflow, humidity and temperature while maintaining the lowest possible energy consumption.
However, it is advised that energy saving HVAC upgrades should not hinder the indoor environmental quality as it can cause discomfort and health issues in some cases too. This can also have a negative impact on productivity at work places and business settings.
Let’s take a look at how AI can improve HVAC efficiency with the following cases:
Controlling an HVAC system effectively becomes quite a challenging task when the building conditions are constantly changing. Consider the following scenarios:
- With changing outdoor temperature, the heating or cooling required to maintain a suitable indoor temperature is affected.
- HVAC control and optimization is also affected by indoor activities. For example, a commercial kitchen would require more ventilation than an workplace of the same size.
- The ventilation requirements and temperature control systems are also affected by people entering and leaving the buildings.
All the above situations cannot be efficiently managed with manual controls for optimal performance. This is where AI makes the job easy by allowing smart control systems that process real-time data and adjust the HVAC systems accordingly. This helps HVAC systems to operate at peak optimal performance even with variable building conditions.
Smart Controls for Ventilation Systems
For optimizing ventilation systems, considering the outdoor airflow for determining the optimal variables is a must. Air Handlers consume less energy than space heaters and air conditioners. However, the outdoor airflow determines the heating and cooling needs of a building. For example, if the outdoor airflow is increased during winter, more heat is needed to maintain the suitable indoor temperature. The same can be applied for air conditioners during summer when the ventilation system increases outdoor airflow.
Many buildings have ventilation systems operating at full airflow. This leads to a major waste of energy. Overventilation leads to energy wastage while underventilation leads to detrimental effects on indoor air quality. Ventilation system coupled with AI can determine the optimal airflow for maintaining a suitable environment of the building. AI can also keep a track of the number of occupants and also the air pollutants concentration. It is highly recommended that the ventilation systems should never reduce the airflow below the required minimum value as suggested by the local building codes.
Optimizing Space Heating and Air Conditioning
According to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), peak human productivity is reached when the indoor temperature is around 22 degree Celsius. The study also observed that as the temperature increases or decreases, it causes discomfort and lowered productivity. Extreme temperatures are highly unlikely even with deficient HVAC systems. However, the indoor air quality degrades gradually as the temperature diverges from the ideal range. Improved and efficient performance is possible with AI enabled smart controls for the HVAC system.
Building furnaces, boilers, chillers and other HVAC equipment are now available with in-built AI. Thus, major energy savings can be expected just by upgrading the old equipment. The use of smart controls leads to efficient working of the entire HVAC system at all times.
AI Synergy with Energy Efficiency Measures
Based on the previous points, it is evident by now that energy efficiency measures are more effective when coupled with artificial intelligence. Two examples of HVAC upgrades that work best with AI are Airside Economizers and Energy Recovery Ventilators.
Airside economizers can help save energy in some climate conditions. When outside air is within suitable temperature and humidity range, the economizers increase ventilation rates and reduce the need for air conditioning. Since ventilation fans need less energy than air conditioners, electricity can be saved. Smart controls can further maximize these savings.
In energy recovery ventilation, when the outdoor airflow is optimized, the energy wastage for heating or cooling is avoided. ERV can then exchange heat between supply air and exhaust air, ultimately reducing the workload on HVAC even further, ERV works for both summer and winter by maintaining suitable temperature with indoor air precooling or indoor air preheating.