Observations from AHR Expo (International Air-Conditioning.Heating.Refrigerating Exposition)

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February 10, 2011

 Held in Las Vegas NV – January 31 to February 2 2011


This annual event showcases the latest products and ideas focused upon services, solutions and systems related to heating, cooling, air handling and refrigeration in buildings, process plants and so forth. Sponsored by two organizations:

1.     American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers Inc. (ASHRAE). A group of over 50,000 members from more than 130 countries. It guides the HVAC&R industry by promulgating standards for testing and design practices, as well as currently funding and carrying out over 70 research projects.

2.     Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). This is the trade association representing manufacturers of air conditioning, heating and commercial refrigeration equipment. AHRI develops standards and certifies the performance for many of these products. AHRI’s 370 member companies account for more than 90% of the residential and commercial air conditioning, space heating, water heating and commercial refrigeration equipment manufactured and sold in North America.


3.     Also participating and supporting were:

  • HRAI – Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada
  • AMCA International – Air Movement and Control Association International


  • ABMA -  American Boiler Manufacturers Association www.abma.org
  • AABC – Associated Balance Control www.aabc.com
  • AFE – Association for Facilities Engineering  www.AFE.org 
  • BACnet International  www.basnetinternational.org 
  • BPI -Building Performance Institute Inc  www.bpi.org 
  • CTA – Climate Talk Alliance  www.ClimateTalk.org
  • CABA – Continental Automatic Building Association www.caba.org
  • CTI- Cooling Technology Institute  www.cti.org
  • Green Mechanical Council  www.greenmech.org
  • GWAC – GridWise Architecture Council  www.gridwiseac.org
  • HARDI – HVACR distribution association www.hardinet.com
  • HVI – Home ventilating Institute www.hvi.org
  • IAQA – Indoor Air Quality Association www.iaqa.org
  • IAPMO – develops and publishes the Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC), Uniform Plumbing code UPC), Uniform Swimming Pool and Hot Tub Code and the Uniform Solar Energy Code  www.iapmo.org
  • IIAR – International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration  www.iiar.org
  • LMA – LonMark Americas – committed to development and use of open , interoperable products using utilizing ANSI/CEA 709.1 (data over power line) 


  • MCCA – Mechanical Contractors of America  www.mcaa.org 
  • MSCA Mechanical Service Contractors of America Inc  www.msca.org
  • NADCA – National Air Duct Cleaners Association  www.nadca.com
  • NAFA – National Air Filtration Association  www.nafahq.org
  • NEBB – National Environmental Balancing Bureau www.nebb.org
  • NATE – North American Technician Excellence Inc  www.natex.org
  • PHCC – Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors National Association         www.phccweb.org/foundation
  • RPA – Radiant Panel Association www.radpro-alliance.org 
  • RETA -  Refrigeration Engineers & Technicians Association  www.reta.com
  • RSES – Refrigeration Service Engineers Society www.rses.org
  • REHVA – Federation of European Heating and Air Conditioning Associations        www.rehva.eu
  • SICCA -  Shanghi Indoor Contamination Control Industry Association        www.jhxh.org.cn
  • SMACNA – Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association        www.smacna.org
  • SPIDA – Spiral Duct Manufacturers Association www.spida.org
  • TABB – Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau  www.tabbcertified.org
  • USGBC – US Green Building Council ( developed and promotes LEED)        www.usgbc.org
  • ZIGBEE – an alliance of 300 members driving the development of zigbee wireless        technology www.zigbee.org


Many of these groups are volunteer organizations focused upon training, standards, lobbying and enhancement within the HVAC industry. Is it time to question the value that some of these deliver? We would leave this to our readers to decide the value that each delivers and how it can or does not impact your requirements.

 Do they all agree? Not really. Perhaps this is one of the continuing issues to be resolved in our quest for Smart Connected and Energy Efficiency in all our forms of real estate.



There was almost a universal theme in all areas of product display around ‘green’ and energy efficiency. This was coupled by an inordinate number of devices, systems and ‘black boxes claiming to provide data so that the users could see what energy they were using, especially kilowatts of electricity. Dash boards, smart thermostats, smart meters, talking to the smart grid and many ‘gadgets’ to help you capture data! Then the disconnect – what would you do with all this data. Few offered more than a few fleeting comments except to say – let us install this equipment and you will be saving money – we will report the information to you, provide service and you will be doing your best for the environment. A few showed a total control package for a building or related facility –Johnson Control, Honeywell, Schneider, Delta. But few talked about all the energy functions except their focus on the HVAC. The total needs for energy management was all about their small world of HVAC.


Perhaps this is where the discussions in many of the seminars began to focus. Most talked about the needs of integration with other functionality in buildings – connectivity, the Smart Grid and how the building would be linked and even become a source of energy back to the grid. In the HVAC silo – geothermal use in buildings for cooling and heating; grey water to be reused for heat; capturing heat from boilers for generation and a host of other applications. Integration was identified as a requirement, but many saw little coordination or collaboration yet within the various aspects of construction. With the work of USGBC and the establishment of LEED standards, many questioned why aspects of technology had been ignored. Why were points awarded for bicycle racks and other features – forgetting that technology integration can and will deliver more value. While LEED has been a starting point some feel that many so called LEED buildings could not be classified as LEED today. Commissioning may have shown what might happen, but in reality, the products and systems did not deliver on the promise. Many are seeking continuous commissioning as a more reliable and better solution.


We still lack standards to meet and maintain. Manufacturers still are reluctant to embrace open standards and protocols – preferring to remain proprietary in many of their features. They seek to be the total solution provider, hoping that with their approach they will capture more business.


We noted some heated discussions in respect to Zero energy building solutions. The pronouncements by both governments and those within trade associations may not come to pass within the suggested completion dates. A zero use building has many proponents especially within the Smart Grid world wondering about the true feasibility of being off the grid. Can the USA utility industry survive or work with building owners who want to have the capability to leave and or come back onto the grid for their needs as their whim. How can we effectively manage renewable energy sources – some that will come from heat capture and other related aspects of the HVAC process?


The Smart Grid certainly has many definitions and will be strongly impacted by regulatory and utility interaction. Electrical distribution in the USA has many facets not seen in Canada. Perhaps Ontario with some 80+ distribution entities mirrors most USA States. Like Canada, the USA does not have a robust East –West transmission grid. Yes, there will be technology added to the North-South grids linking Canada and the USA, but these will simply allow for increased reliability and the ability to deliver bulk power to supplement local generation. The technology needs envisioned for Smart Grids will focus in local neighborhoods and for tying in where feasible local generation capacity from wind/ solar/biomass and even in building generation.  


There were many concerns about the preparedness in the industry for people who have the training and knowledge to cope with the new technology platforms – many of which are being driven by information technology.

What of the Cloud? Some said it would be coming and would be a great thing- others said they could never turn over control of their critical systems to commands coming from areas beyond their physical control. The culture to embrace It and many aspects of system integration is not fully embraced by those that buy and use the HVAC products. The silo within the HVAC as well as other related industries is still not yet ‘crumbling down’. Old boiler mentality is still place.


What will it take? Time, better education and we think closer overall industry collaboration with the key groups involved with electricity and other energy activities. These will be standards bodies, government (regulation will be needed but will never solve the problem); utilities as well as manufacturers of products and systems.


In many of the sessions, we attended, including several impromptu supplier events; we often heard discussion that clearly showed there was ‘customer confusion’. Many were not clear what was meant with Smart Meters, Smart Grid, Zero buildings, the real value of renewables and their costs. If this somewhat knowledgeable industry cross section has confusion, what is happening with their customers?   Many of survey data offered in presentations showed they really did not know what to do first to save energy, so have done little if anything. Yes, the customers saw some benefits with the lighting retrofit and new chillers, but they were still on a project by project approach. Have not yet embraced energy conservation as a overall business opportunity.


It was obvious few involved with owning the building were present, lots of installers, distributors of HVAC equipment, the in building user, agents, consultants, foreign suppliers  etc. It will be interesting to see the profile of attendees when published. Yes the vent was well attended (over 40,000 – 25% from the previous year). Reason was possible the location and the USA building/construction economy though sputtering is improving.


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