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AI not a magic wand solution to realise smarter HVAC

Industry faces a major challenge in ensuring sufficient skills exist in the building services sector to make smarter, more automated heating functions viable

Efforts to introduce smarter HVAC technologies that can make use of new forms of AI to potentially automate key building functions should not be seen alone as a magic wand solution for realising more efficient buildings, BSRIA has warned.

Henry Lawson, senior analyst and ‘smart’ technology expert with BSRIA, joined H&V News for its most recent HeatingCasts to look at some of the challenges facing the building services sector in moving towards greater use of web-connected technologies. These are technologies that can record and then act on personal user data.

While these technologies could have a potentially massive impact on changing the behaviours of building owners that would better achieve aims for low and even zero carbon buildings, key challenges around skills, cyber security and compatibility between different tech must be addressed.

It is these challenges that Mr Lawson added require a clear and careful approach over how new technologies and appliances making use of AI are built into homes.

He said during the HeatingCast that AI was not a simple solution for the complex nature of building services functions.

Mr Lawson added, “So, if you are going to apply AI in a way that is generally intelligent, for example if I’m using it to predict if something is going to fail, if my AI system is overeager and constantly crying wolf, then you’re probably going to switch it off and ignore it when the system does fail.”

“Equally, if it is too blasé and you find you have a serious problem, that is no good either.”

Developing effective AI for the HVAC sector required finding a carefully chosen middle ground between two potential extremes – creating a major challenge for industry.

Skills focus

Mr Lawson said that there was growing recognition across the building services sector that entirely new approaches to training -ones that incorporate digital technologies into HVAC applications - needed to be addressed.

He cited the example of institutions such as City and Guilds as looking at developing training and qualifications that would have greater relevance for installing smart systems and homes.

Mr Lawson added, “Obviously one of the challenges is that, whereas we are used to thinking of the skills of say someone who is an electrician, plumber or an engineer as evolving over the last few decades, with smart technology, things can happen much more quickly.”

“On the other side, while there will be demand for new skills, smart technology - particularly in the advanced stages - can actually make some of the basic HVAC jobs much straighter forward. For example, if you are maintaining a piece of equipment in the home, such as a boiler, if you have a smart system, there is a good chance it can work out the state of the system is or the parts that may need looking at.”

Successfully installing and monitoring systems with smart technology could therefore see much great industry focus on preventative maintenance as issues begin to appear, allowing manufacturers and service groups to better limit downtime.

The first part of the HeatingCast, which looks at the how exactly a smart, or smarter appliance is defined can be listened to here.

The second part, which looks at whether the HVAC sector can expect a major influx of tech giants into the sector, can be found here.

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