The Internet of Things (IoT) and the refrigerant of the future were top of the agenda on our recent visit to Chillventa 2018 in Nuremberg.
#1: The “Internet of Things” (IoT) was a buzz phrase this year on HVAC-R company stands – was there substance behind the slogan?
Our view is that, compared to previous visits to Chillventa, 2018’s event did show that the convergence of heating & cooling appliances with the IoT is moving up a level. We saw IoT offerings designed not only to better control and optimise the HVAC-R system itself, but a ramping up of IoT offerings seeking to better control and optimise the whole building energy system – and in some cases the wider energy system. Here are some examples:
- At appliance level, features such as remote control and diagnostics for individual appliances are now clearly commonplace, and these features are growing more sophisticated. For example, Fujitsu are taking the now ubiquitous smart phone app offering to the next level, with their Amazon Alexa voice-controlled functionality.
- At building level, we saw an emergence of more offerings focusing on integration and system optimisation of HVAC-R with the whole building e.g. PV, EVs, home energy management systems. Residential HVAC products from several players at Chillventa including Daikin and LG were advertised as having this capability.
- At energy system level, there were a few notable examples of offerings designed for HVAC-R in demand response applications g. in supermarket refrigeration – but still a long way to go. In the words of Torben Funder-Kristensen of Danfoss at the ASERCOM + EPEE Symposium (held the day before Chillventa), “there is a perfect fit between smarter control of compressors and the energy transition”. And on a commercial/industrial scale, this is beginning to be deployed commercially, but at the domestic scale, the industry is still feeling its way to find the optimal demand response models.
We expect that, as the need for energy system flexibility grows, driving the need for balancing services and system optimisation at a local – sometimes even household – level, the role of IoT-enabled HVAC-R systems will only become more important.
#2: R32 cements its place as the most widely used refrigerant in residential HVAC units in Europe to meet near-term F-gas targets, but a divergence emerges between Asian and European manufacturers.
It is clear that continuing to use R410a for residential HP and AC won’t remain a viable option in the long-term. Taking aside the increasing regulatory pressure on high GWP refrigerants, there have been eye-watering price rises for R410a (around 9 x between Q1 2017 and Q2 2018, according to Ökorecherche). So what did Chillventa tell us about what will replace R410a?
As we expected, Chillventa confirmed that the Asian HVAC manufacturers are relatively united in moving to R32 as their preferred refrigerant for residential heat pumps and air conditioning units. Many of the major companies, amongst them Daikin, Panasonic, LG, Samsung and Fujitsu, prominently advertised their new residential products using R32. Not all these companies’ appliances have yet moved over to the new refrigerant, but the direction of travel is clear.
However, it is unlikely that European heat pump companies will make such a clear choice, and Chillventa indicated a rather fragmented outlook. There is interest in (near) ‘drop-in’ replacements for R410a, such as Honeywell’s L41y (R452B) and the yet-to-be-released N41 (R466A) – both of which were showcased at Chillventa as “alternatives to R32”. And we know some compressor OEMs and European HVAC manufacturers have racked up significant experience in natural refrigerants such as propane and CO2. But, with a few exceptions, European HVAC manufacturers do not appear to have made up their mind. Indeed, our Electrification of Heat Service survey on Future Refrigerant Choices among major European and Asian heat pump manufacturers in late 2017 revealed a low level of commitment to any one solution among the European respondents.
Long-term, the heat pump market will likely have to move beyond R32. While the residential HVAC industry will try to get by for the next few years using mid-level GWP compounds like R32, looking further ahead (to the 2030s and beyond), Delta-ee believes the heat pump industry will need to go lower-GWP than R32.
You can stay up-to-date with developments in the refrigerants space with our Electrification of Heat Service Refrigerants Round-up – contact [email protected] for more details.