"We will make super-efficient home HVAC with HEPA filters one day," said Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Inc., in a tweet from his official Twitter account. This statement brought new fuel to the rumor mill that was churning as to what Musk might have ready for the company’s 2020 Annual Shareholders Meeting and Battery Day event. The 2.5-hour outdoor presentation was reminiscent of a drive-in movie theater. The audience was in a parking lot full of Tesla vehicles, and they were honking and waving in response to moments shared from the stage.
Fast forward to the question-and-answer period, and the HVAC industry might have felt their ears burning. A question from the audience asked Musk about his intentions for thermal management systems for homes.
“Oh, you mean home HVAC,” he said. "That's a pet project that I'd love to get going on — maybe we'll start working on that next year. I just think you could really make a way better home HVAC system that's really quiet and super energy efficient, has a way better filter for particles, and works very reliably.”
He went on to explain that what he is proposing has already been invented for the Tesla vehicle and pointed out that the heat pump in the Model Y is “really pretty spectacular.”
LIVE DRIVE IN: Tesla Inc.’s 2020 Annual Shareholders Meeting and Battery Day event.
“I mean it’s tiny, it’s efficient, and it has to last for 15 years,” said Musk. “It has to work in all kinds of conditions from the coldest winter to the hottest summer. We have actually already done a massive amount of the work necessary for a really kick-ass home HVAC.”
Musk proposed stacking the units, depending on the size of the house and how much capacity is needed. His final thoughts on the matter crossed between ideas and brainstorming as he said, “You just have a very compelling, super-efficient HVAC that could also communicate with the car. It will know when you are coming home. The pack can communicate with the car and just really dial it into when you actually need cooling and heating. It would be great.”
HVAC Industry Thoughts
In an industry with multiple players and growing technology, announcements such as the one Musk made inspire different responses from HVAC industry members. Air quality, energy efficiency, and sound levels were all challenged in the ideation of Tesla home HVAC.
OPEN COMMUNICATION: Todd Welda, vice president of strategic program management, Goodman Manufacturing Company L.P.
“We’re glad to see Elon Musk bring attention and give support to innovation in the HVAC market,” said Todd Welda, vice president of strategic program management, Goodman Manufacturing Company L.P. “Many products Daikin and Goodman have introduced in recent years have helped bring the vision of an energy-efficient, connected home to fruition.”
Daikin, for example, recently introduced the FIT system that uses inverter technology to provide energy-efficient and quiet operation.
“A FIT system can be controlled using Daikin’s innovative One+ smart thermostat, which can be controlled via an app from anywhere in the world with an internet connection,” said Welda. “The concept of an HVAC system reacting to the arrival of the homeowner and automatically adjusting the indoor temperature setting is not too futuristic — it’s already here.”
He also explained that the communicating control systems on many Goodman and Amana brand systems offer open protocols, enabling connectivity to a wide array of smart home technology offerings.
“It will be interesting to see if new entrants will provide the same or select a closed protocol for connectivity to smart home automation systems,” said Welda. “Technology is always evolving in the HVAC industry, but one challenge for HVAC manufacturers is to ensure that the new technology is affordable to the homeowner or business owner. Without widespread distribution and acceptance, any proposed system may not be financially viable to potential customers.”
The York Hx™3 product family has the ability to integrate with retail smart home products through mobile applications and voice control as well.
CURRENT MARKET: York®, a brand of Johnson Controls.
“Smart home technology continues to evolve year after year as systems become more efficient, quieter, and offer the latest features such as humidity control and advanced filtration,” said Jason Wilson, product manager, residential controls, Johnson Controls. “Currently, York® offers a wide range of products that have integrated smart controls, offering homeowners a quiet and efficient home comfort system while maintaining a healthy indoor environment.”
Additionally, York® offers IAQ and filtration products to ensure indoor air is clean and comfortable.
“Whole-home humidification and dehumidification is integrated within our Hx™3 smart controls, which allows homeowners to maintain humidity levels between 40-60% controlled with the Hx™ Thermostat app,” said Wilson. “Filtration products of up to MERV 16 can be integrated into premium HVAC systems, which is 99% effective in the removal of pollens and bacteria while also pulling out up to 96% of all virus-sized particles in the airstream.”
Michelle Robb, senior director of marketing, Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US, pointed out that when it comes to efficiency and smart controls, the industry is already there.
“We are working to improve and add more functionality to our existing systems, increasing our capabilities around dehumidification and smart controls,” she said. “Achieving HEPA-level filtration in ductless products is difficult, and we are exploring different means of achieving IAQ benefits like HEPA filtration through different technologies. IAQ is a key area of development in the industry.”
Redesigning The Battery
Rewinding from the question and answer session to the Battery Day announcement, Musk brought out Andrew Baglino, senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering, Tesla Inc., to help him address renewable energy and the capacity at which current battery cells function.
TAG TEAM: Elon Musk (right) and Andrew Baglino .
“This presentation is about accelerating the time to sustainable energy," said Musk. "Running this climate experiment is insane."
Baglino chimed in, "Especially when it is just a transitory one anyway. We are going to run out of these fossil fuels. Let's just move on to the future and not run this experiment anymore."
The two continued as they laid out that current renewable efforts, although promising, were not going to be enough.
"I think solar is underweighted at Tesla sometimes, but it is a massive part of our future,” said Musk. “The three parts of a sustainable energy future are sustainable energy generation, storage, and electric vehicles. We intend to play a significant role in all three."
Musk and Baglino’s equation for 100% renewable requires more renewable electric power than can be created by current facilities, even if they run at their maximum capacity. Baglino explained that the terawatt hour (TWh) is the new gigawatt hour (GWh) and that, once they are successful, renewable electrical energy will give rise to the electrification to what was once run by fossil fuels — HVAC included.
"We have a plan to halve the cost per KWh, and it is not a plan that rests on a single innovation or some research project that will never see the light of day," said Musk. "It's a plan that has taken creative engineering and industrialization across every facet of what makes a cell into a battery pack from raw material to the finished thing."