Talking HVAC Technology With Johnson Controls’ Jeff Williams
Smart homes, refrigerant transition risks, and remote HVAC service scratch this interview’s surface
Jeff Williams serves as vice president and also president, Global Products, Building Technologies & Solutions for Johnson Controls. It is not a dull time for HVACR technology, regulations, and training, as he shared in an interview with The ACHR NEWS. This interview took place before the economic ramifications of COVID-19 had developed in the United States.
ACHR NEWS: What do you think the smart home/home automation landscape will look like in 10 years?
Williams: With the current pace of technology innovation, smart homes could change drastically in 10 years. In addition to the availability of smarter, more intuitive home automation technologies, we will likely see greater integration and better communication between systems. This includes security, lighting, HVAC, entertainment, energy efficiency, and more.
Cybersecurity will continue to be a growing concern with the increase in connected devices. Smart home technology will need to adapt to this need so users are confident that their data is being kept safe.
FULL CIRCLE: On the home automation side, Williams expects better integration of control over various systems and appliances, without slowing the pursuit of greater efficiency.
Energy efficiency will continue to be a top priority, so we can expect future smart homes to employ new tools for optimizing energy usage to even further decrease the carbon footprint of each home.
ACHR NEWS: How (if at all) do you think the IoT and increased inter-device connectivity around the home will affect the current paradigm where most HVAC contractors deal with just HVAC or maybe electrical and plumbing, but are generally not getting involved in more of that broader picture?
Williams: More and more systems are being designed with built-in advanced diagnostics and smart maintenance tools, which will make it easier for contractors to service multiple systems. We may even see more parts of this service being done remotely, when possible, through mobile apps that connect and communicate with home HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems.
ACHR NEWS: As seen at AHR, some manufacturers are starting to commit more emphatically to one low-GWP refrigerant or another in a post-HFC manufacturing world, and this suggests a more complex landscape for homeowners and contractors. Any thoughts on how the industry should try to navigate that and/or on your company’s refrigerant choices moving forward?
Williams: Knowledge is key. With an upcoming refrigerant transition, now is the time for homeowners and contractors to educate themselves to be in a better position to make the best equipment choices in the future.
At Johnson Controls, we use our Refrigerant Stewardship Model that evaluates three criteria: safety and reliability, efficiency and sustainability, and availability and affordability.
Safe and reliable: Many of the commercial refrigerant alternatives are mildly flammable. These refrigerants are being researched and reviewed so standards and codes can be developed around safe usage. New refrigerants must also be tested to ensure compatibility with HVAC system gaskets, elastomers, and materials of construction. If a refrigerant begins to break down over time, it can impact system performance and operating costs or cause damage to the equipment.
Efficient and sustainable: For refrigerant alternatives to be considered, its use should result in overall system performance that is similar to conventional or existing refrigerants. Although the GWP of refrigerant alternatives is lower, a negative impact to performance can result in higher indirect emission values, which can negate the refrigerant’s lower-GWP value.
Available and affordable: Alternative refrigerants must be affordable. Many of the emerging refrigerants cost up to five times more than existing fluids. Refrigerants must also be readily available. Some of the recently introduced refrigerant alternatives have been released only in limited quantities — or, in some markets, not at all.
The challenge is understandable, but in the meantime, the lack of availability creates incalculable risk. Technicians can’t be properly trained in the refrigerant’s use. And for building owners who commit to a refrigerant that’s not widely available at the outset, the long-term cost of ownership may turn out to be prohibitive if the supply remains limited.
ACHR NEWS: Before accepting the role of president of global markets, you spent two and a half years working on the business in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. What about those markets will migrate; what will the U.S. market need to adapt to in coming years?
Williams: Sustainability and energy efficiency will be major trends that will impact U.S. and global markets for years to come. Our recently released annual Energy Efficiency Indicator survey highlights some of these trends. 2019 marked the 13th edition of the survey, with 1,300 respondents represented from 12 countries including the United States, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and United Arab Emirates.
Some of the U.S. results include:
- Eighty-five percent of organizations plan to have at least one certified green building, compared with 72 percent last year, while 62 percent are willing to pay a premium for space in a certified green building.
- Sixty-three percent of organizations say they are very or extremely likely to have one or more facilities that are nearly or net zero energy or carbon in the next 10 years, up from 58 percent in the previous year.
- Sixty-one percent of organizations surveyed invested in on-site renewable energy in 2019, while 34 percent of organizations invested in the replacement of fossil fuel heating equipment with heat pump technology last year.
ACHR NEWS: Talk about the agreement between Johnson Controls and Lincoln Tech within the context of the ongoing skilled labor shortage. How you see that partnership expanding?
Williams: The partnership between Johnson Controls and Lincoln Tech began in 2018 with a goal of bridging the technical skills gap and developing a program that provides hands-on training in local markets to empower students with the skills necessary to enter the technical workforce and build a fulfilling career in today’s changing marketplace.
Working with Lincoln Tech, Johnson Controls has launched a total of 10 classrooms across the country. We launched our last classroom in November 2019. In total, Johnson Controls is sponsoring 10 Lincoln Tech campuses across the country — they have all been launched.
ACHR NEWS: You mentioned a reality where technology allows a service provider to maximize the amount of diagnosis and even repair that they can do remotely, minimizing the need for “rolling trucks” to a site. On a scale of one to 10, how far along is the industry toward that scenario?
Williams: I think the industry is about a five out of 10 on the ability to fully diagnose and remotely remediate equipment and systems problems to avoid truck rolls.
The limiting factors include manufacturing FDD-enabled smart equipment; enabling equipment with all of the sensor technology needed; and providing secure two-way connections for start, stop, sequencing, adjustments, and complete over-the-air updates.
Johnson Controls has moved to providing condition-based maintenance with our Smart Connected Chiller program and have increased the reliability and efficiency of chillers used a patent pending Chiller Performance Index (CPI) on over 3,000 chillers.
Johnson Controls Internet of Things (IoT) conditioned based maintenance has enabled some of the following customer outcomes:
- Reduction in unexpected failures by 66 percent by using the CPI index and other tools predict failures and prevent issues.
- Reduction in mean time to repair of 65 percent by using the dashboard to understand what tools and resources are needed before rolling a truck to speed up the repair.
- Reduction in cost of PM/PdM maintenance cost of 11 percent by utilizing 24/7/365 monitoring of faults and CPI index to perform maintenance only when needed and eliminating some of the previous time or hour-based tasks.
ACHR NEWS: Is there a current Johnson Controls product that you feel is a bit under the radar and that HVAC contractors should be more aware of?
The new PENN Connected Refrigeration tool leverages the cloud, IoT, mobile applications, and data analytics to provide real-time data to optimize commercial refrigeration system efficiency, performance, and reliability. It’s a cost-effective solution to ensure food stored in refrigeration equipment is always safe.
PENN connected refrigeration software is compatible with PENN controllers, IoT sensors, and third-party hardware. Users can receive direct alerts via SMS, email, or automated phone call to support continuous food and equipment safety. They can also enable remote data access to ensure prompt action and build in predictive maintenance to extend equipment life.
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