The Future of Air Conditioning

Unbearably hot summers are just a fact of life for those of us who live in Middle Georgia and have been for as long as people have lived in this part of the world. But in recent years, parts of the world that have traditionally enjoyed mild or even cool summers are beginning to experience the sort of blistering heat that we’re accustomed to.

July of 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Not the hottest month in recent history, or the hottest month in the last few decades – the hottest month ever recorded since reliable weather records started in the 1880s. And many scientists are confident that it was the hottest 30 days in the last 120,000 years.

What that means for our planet is yet to be seen, but what it means for our industry is that the demand for cooling systems will increase significantly in the next 20 years. As parts of the world previously unbothered by heat are now joining us in seeing cooling as a necessity instead of a luxury, commercial cooling systems will be a constantly growing drain on our nation’s energy supply.

Currently, about 20% of all electricity consumed in buildings worldwide goes to cooling. 10% of the world’s electrical production goes toward cooling. And as temperatures increase everywhere, some estimates say that the global annual energy demand from cooling could triple by 2050, an increase that’s roughly equivalent to the US’s entire annual energy consumption.

How will we respond to this change in our global climate?

Improving the Efficiency of Existing Systems

Initially, we’ll need to adopt smarter technologies that allow our existing cooling systems to operate more efficiently.  By reducing the consumption of our existing systems, we can move towards more efficient cooling. Several new technologies are making this possible:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about the rise of artificial intelligence systems, “smart” computer systems that can collate data from several different sources, “learn” from human interactions, and then use all of that information to provide incredibly detailed conclusions or provide granular control over complex systems.

In the world of HVAC, we’re now seeing AI-driven controls and monitors that can provide increased efficiencies in existing cooling systems. AI-powered occupancy and thermometer systems can learn from a facility’s cooling needs, interpret weather conditions and occupancy patterns, and provide effective real-time control of a complete commercial HVAC system to ensure that energy expenditures remain as low as possible while still providing adequate cooling for the people inside.

In addition, AI monitoring systems are being developed to assess data from sensors inside an HVAC system to predict equipment failures and identify inefficiencies due to suboptimal system performance. These systems won’t only save owners and operators millions of dollars in repair and replacement costs but will also ensure that systems operate smoothly and efficiently without wasting energy on overcoming friction from bad bearings, compensating for refrigerant leaks, or trying to force air through clogged or dirty ductwork.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Once a buzzword in the tech industry and now a normal part of life for millions, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a collective name for internet-connected devices other than computers, tablets, and mobile phones. If you have a Ring doorbell or a washing machine that sends a text alert once the spin cycle is complete, you’re enjoying the IoT.

For commercial heating and cooling systems, IoT sensors, thermostats, and other connected devices help keep owners and operators updated on system status, provide remote control of HVAC systems, and generate detailed usage data that can inform future decisions. By allowing this real-time monitoring of systems and around-the-clock control, IoT devices added to an existing HVAC system can dramatically increase the system’s efficiency and reduce energy expenditures.

Renewable Energy

One of the fastest-growing sectors of the energy market is renewable energy, using energy sources such as solar and wind to generate electricity on-site to power a facility’s HVAC equipment. Doing so is becoming increasingly affordable as new technologies continuously lower the cost of adoption.

While typically requiring a fairly significant upfront investment, adding renewable power generation to your plant will pay for itself fairly quickly. Adding a solar array or wind turbine to your plant is usually enough now to provide more than 100% of your energy needs, allowing your extra generation capacity to feed into the grid, both providing other users with zero-emission electricity and providing a noticeable financial benefit as well.

A technician installs solar panels on the roof of a commercial building. Solar is one of many sustainable energy sources currently being used to increase cooling efficiencies.

Reinventing the Cooling System

But simply increasing the efficiency of our existing HVAC systems isn’t going to do the trick. At the end of the day, a traditional compressor-driven air conditioner is inherently inefficient to a certain extent, having to dramatically overcool air to remove the humidity that contains a large part of the atmosphere’s heat energy. Scientists and engineers worldwide are tackling this problem with creative solutions designed to cool and dry the air inside homes, businesses, and industries via means other than vapor compression.

Independent Desiccation Systems

Some of these new technologies rely on desiccant packs (large versions of the “Do not eat” drying packs found in medicine bottles) to remove moisture from the air and then use the heat that’s removed from the interior environment to “recharge” the desiccant and make it ready for the next day’s use. Other systems are being designed that separate a cooling system’s “drying” function from its “cooling” function to provide more efficient air conditioning with less wasted energy.

Evaporative Cooling Systems

Other technologies rely on the oldest cooling “technology” known to humankind: evaporation. Evaporative cooling systems have been in place for millennia in desert climates around the world, and updated versions have enjoyed commercial success in arid industrialized areas. The familiar “swamp cooler” is a well-known evaporative cooler that relies on the evaporation of water to cool air moving through a home. While evaporative coolers are known for being largely ineffective in humid areas such as Middle Georgia, new concepts are being developed that could provide effective evaporative cooling, even when the relative humidity regularly reaches the upper 90s.

Environmental Cooling Strategies

The best cooling, from an energy perspective, is the cooling that doesn’t have to take place at all. By developing more innovative building and urban planning practices, groups worldwide are coming up with new ways to build so that the interiors of buildings never get that hot in the first place. Smart window tinting, integrated greenscapes, airflow management, and other concepts are being brought together to provide natural, zero-consumption, or low-consumption ways to keep building occupants comfortable.

Hays Service: Embracing the Future of Cooling

At Hays Service, we’re excited to see these and other developments coming to the world of HVAC. From day one, one of our primary goals has been to see our customers enjoy the maximum possible efficiencies from their cooling systems, and the promising new technologies being developed every day will make it easier than ever to deliver effective and efficient cooling.

Part of our commitment to our customers is to remain invested in tracking each new development as it emerges, learning everything we can about these systems and how they work, finding the best suppliers, and offering these cutting-edge options whenever possible.

Together, we can use these exciting new products and systems to keep the employees who keep our nation running working at the top of their game while still keeping energy consumption at the lowest possible level. The future of cooling is coming – and we’re proud of the work our team does daily to bring that future to life.

May you all be blessed,

Coach Cal