Sustainable technologies for a better life

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Published: 25 April 2017


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Andrea Voigt, Director General of EPEE, addressing the EUREKA conference in The Hague
Andrea Voigt, Director General of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), reflects on the EUREKA conference held in The Hague and looks forward to this year’s event.

Heating, Cooling, Ventilation and Refrigeration (HVACR) are everywhere in people’s daily lives – at home, in schools, in supermarkets, in hospitals– and as such the HVACR sector deals with health and comfort, energy efficiency, sustainability, etc. 
“Sustainable technologies for a better life” provided the guiding theme for EUREKA 2016, an innovative and participatory conference dedicated to the HVACR sector’s embedded role in the present and in the future of our societies. Held in The Hague, the conference was jointly organised by the industrial associations EPEE (heating, cooling, and refrigeration) and EVIA (ventilation), leading voices in the sector.

More than 120 participants from industry, academia, politics and civil society attended this unique event, which addressed four key areas which are not only at the heart of the HVACR sector, but which will also have a major impact on the lives of coming generations: food waste, refrigerants, energy efficiency in buildings, and indoor air quality. 

Participants played an active role in brainstorming on how the sector needs to adapt to the challenges of the future. Their aim was to imagine what life will look like in 2030 and in particular what Generation Z will want and expect from HVACR products. Generation Z? Those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s for whom the internet has been a regular feature of their daily life since early childhood and who are comfortable with technology and interacting with people around the world on social media and other digital platforms. 

Multiple challenges
The outcomes of the brainstorms have been integrated into the Visionary Paper; a unique tool aiming to help the industry adapt their products and services to the requirements and demands of future consumers. Generation Z will have to cope with multiple challenges, including climate change and global population growth, implying an increasing demand for energy. Members of this generational cohort will also work, learn, think and communicate differently, which will produce a relatively more demanding consumer demographic.

Altogether these trends will fundamentally change the way the HVACR industry operates. Consequently, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Only by identifying these changes and anticipating them, can the sector turn challenges into opportunities, to effectively harness potentially disruptive technological change, and thereby continue to provide the essential everyday services of heating, cooling, refrigeration and ventilation to customers across the globe. 

For instance, the digitalization of society and the need for simple, intuitive, tailored, connected, and collaborative solutions emerged as a key priority during EUREKA 2016. This trend is very likely to drive the development of smart homes and appliances. These appliances will be able to communicate with each other and be connected to high-speed internet as well as to the grid, which will allow consumers to shift their energy demand in reaction to price signals. These devices will also be able to react to up-to-date information facilitating the tailoring of their applications to the exact needs of customers. Coupled with Generation Z’s appetite for transparency and data, HVACR products will have to provide a range of information in a user-friendly way to empower consumers, helping them to make informed choices, whilst maximising their comfort and wellbeing. Manufacturers will have to think about new ways of communicating about their products’ performance (e.g. indicators on Indoor Air Quality or low-impact refrigerants). Not only will the industry have to innovate to meet the expectations of Generation Z, but also strike the right balance between standardisation and customisation at an affordable price.   


Collaborative trends
Societal trends will also spill over to the HVACR sector and emerging concepts such as the sharing economy will have to be taken on board by manufacturers to develop new business models that fulfil consumers’ expectations but remain economically viable. For instance, collaborative schemes may spread in the building sector with the rise of decentralized, and potentially renewable-based energy networks. Neighbours will be able to pool energy resources and purchase power from each other’s solar panels and share micro-cogeneration and storage facilities. Challenging the classic ownership concept, consumers will no longer focus on a “product” – e.g. an air-conditioner or a ventilation unit – but rather on a function – e.g. cooling or indoor air quality. In this context, rental services are likely to flourish and pricing will shift from a pay-per-product to a pay-as-you-use principle. Consumers will increasingly lease and buy packages that include the function as well as ongoing service, including maintenance and continuous commissioning options. 

Exciting journey
EUREKA 2016 and the Visionary Paper is only the start of the journey. EPEE and EVIA are committed to helping industry prepare for the future. Indeed, it is essential that the HVACR industry develops innovative ways to work together and share knowledge and best practices to identify the needs of Generation Z and to collaboratively address them. Our industry is also willing to cooperate with decision-makers to ensure that European and national policy frameworks evolve harmoniously to be able to cope with a fast-changing and complex world.

The HVACR sector cuts across various legislative measures and, more importantly, has been identified and projected in the long-term as Europe’s biggest energy-consuming sector. A forward-looking policy approach is therefore required for this industry to bring substantial benefits – energy efficiency, sustainability and comfort – for both the economy and consumers. For this to happen, we are ready to think outside of the box and to engage in an exciting journey!

The next edition of EUREKA will take place in Berlin in December. Discussions will focus on seeking input from participants on how Generation Z actually perceive the world and environment in which they grew up and how they view the challenges that industry should address as a priority. Given the success of EUREKA 2016, the positive feedback from participants, and the need to convene regularly, we very much look forward to this second edition of EUREKA!

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