COVID-19 has accelerated the concern over indoor air quality and advanced innovative technology.
By Bruce Nagy
I can never remember my dentist appointments, but I always seem to remember where I put the ice cream. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we will all be able to forget the year that was like a brutal dental procedure. Yet, as 2020 ends, it might soothe our exasperated dispositions to look for a silver lining.
Does the pandemic and other extraordinary events offer any positive outcomes? Much has changed in the way we live, work and think about the world. Some of these changes might be for the best, and some things may never return to normal, whatever “normal” means.
Filtration, disinfection and ventilation
In July, 239 scientists wrote to the World Health Organization citing research that showed the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads not just in larger droplets, but in aerosols too. This was followed by another open letter from 680 built environment professionals in 51 countries and major industry organizations urging public health leaders to adopt and advance indoor air quality best practices, which are believed to help protect occupants from the spread of the virus.
An ASHRAE expert panel began issuing guidance documents related to filtration, disinfection, ventilation, fresh air, opening or closing buildings, construction sites, institutions, voting facilities, and so much more.
For virtually everyone changed the way we operate our day-to-days and how we interact with each other. In Canada, the United States and many other countries, a good portion of the mechanical trades was deemed essential, with numerous new protocols were established.
This includes more digital ordering and marketing, wholesaler parking lot pickups, masks and distancing at the order desk, contactless service call arrangements, mostly empty offices, Zoom meetings, beefed up home offices, and a high level of demand for buildings to change.
Remote commissioning and monitoring
Manufacturers increased webinar training, added a video software app to support virtual commissioning support, and began noticing the interest in products and services related to online equipment monitoring, control, and analytics.
Demand has accelerated in retail and institutional settings for touchless plumbing, UVC disinfection devices, water and air filtration systems, UVC disinfection treatments, and endless plexiglass barriers.
Disinfection devices using Far UVC—which is safer for humans than UVC light—are expected to be approved and introduced to the market in a year or two, according to Gennady Simanovsky, CEO of Dolphin Vision, a global manufacturer of UVC technology.
With more time spent at home, interest has ramped up for energy recovery ventilators and dedicated outdoor air systems, smart home technology, heat pumps and other clean energy heating and cooling equipment.
Clean energy to mitigate next global challenge
During the pandemic, demand for clean systems either grew or remained relatively strong, and many commentators have theorized that the COVID-19 experience has made us more introspective about working together to adopt ways to solve global problems like climate change. We have also been impacted by a deteriorating economy, and for many, a lighter workload.
Governments continue to ramp up incentives and funding programs for commercial and residential equipment upgrades, and phase in new regulations, standards and building code changes.
Presumed US president-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which may accelerate the shift to greener heating, cooling, plumbing and refrigeration systems.
During July, ASHRAE signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Canada ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol in 2017 and implementation began in 2019. Along with rejoining of the Paris climate agreement, the new U.S. administration is likely to support bipartisan efforts in the senate to pass its own final ratification details. They will phase out HFCs and will allow blends for a while.
Equipment manufacturers are seeking national leadership to replace a patchwork of regional rules, so that they can compete with imports coming from Europe and Asia. Industry groups like HRAI and AHRI want certainty on training and simplified supply for distributors.
Natural refrigerants including ammonia, CO2, and propane are making strong comebacks in grocery stores, refrigerated warehouses, and arenas all over North America. At January’s AHR Expo in Orlando, Danfoss took the top prize in the 2020 Innovation Awards for its CO2 Adaptive Liquid Management (CALM) solution. CALM combines a liquid ejector and adaptive liquid controller algorithm to fully utilize evaporator surface area in display cases and cold rooms.
Oil and gas companies are going bankrupt and/or transforming into renewables businesses, cities are phasing out gas furnaces and car-dominant urban planning. Investors, banks and insurers are walking away from fossil fuels, and electric vehicle sales are quickly growing all over the world.
In the corporate world, meetings using Zoom and similar tools have become trendy, but the pandemic has been the real litmus test for working out the kinks of the software.
The Harvard Business Review interviewed CEOs and found that operations in a broad cross section of industries will change permanently. Days at the office are likely to be replaced by remote working.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only catalyst. Many are also reacting to the possibility of growing political unrest, intense climate effects, unsafe urban environments, and more pandemics in the future. Companies are saving money, and people are willing to continue online deliveries and cocooning at home, especially if extreme lockdown periods can be relaxed and we can find a few safe models for socializing and outdoor activities. Some are heading for the cottage more or moving permanently out of cities.
We want the best filtering, disinfecting and ventilation systems, but also the option to open our windows in good weather. Researchers recently demonstrated an energy-frugal radiant outdoor cooling system at an HVAC show in Singapore.
Highly equipped living/workspaces
Working and living at home seems to be leading to a fortress mentality, with better physical and online security, off-grid plumbing including water wells, rainwater collection, UV and membrane disinfection of lake or river water, and atmospheric water capture devices. Economically viable desalination will continue to be developed for agricultural and domestic consumption of seawater. On-site renewables, electricity storage and microgrid software are already growing at unprecedented rates.
For some, working at home will require industrial strength internet and wireless capability, 5G infrastructure and multi-channel chipsets and radio cards from companies like Edgewater Wireless in Ottawa. There will also be greater interest in cyber security. High volume online purchasing may require better encryption and control of your digital identity. A Burnaby, B.C. company called KABN is launching biometric based products that prove you are you.
Surging residential online orders are supporting fast advances in delivery, including autonomous ground vehicles and drones, dropping or drop shipping everything from medical supplies and HVAC parts to pizza and ice cream. You’ll probably get more online reminders about that dentist appointment too, but you still might block it out of your mind—like many of us are planning to do with the year we’ve had. Happy New Year. Maybe 2021 will be better.