Nathan Groenhout, F.AIRAH
Dr Nathan Groenhout, F.AIRAH, is a Discretionary Director on AIRAH’s Board and the CEO and founder of Global IQ Group. He also served as the Institute’s National President from 2013–2016.
Originally from Sydney and now based in Brisbane, Groenhout moved around a few times while in school – including a two-and-a-half-year stint in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Groenhout says he wanted to be an engineer since he was 10 years old. His father was a surveyor working on a major hydro-electric scheme and, growing up, he was surrounded by engineers and big equipment.
He studied aeronautical engineering at UNSW, sharing a common first year with mechanical engineering. Groenhout opted for the latter – a decision that has led him to a fruitful career in the Australian HVAC&R industry.
Below, Groenhout offers insight on his work experience, the issue of our industry’s visibility, and how HVAC&R has changed – as well as where it’s headed.
What brought you to the HVAC&R industry?
While I was completing my undergraduate degree, I started working for a small mechanical contractor in Sydney’s south. We did a lot of ventilation work for Sydney Water in sewerage treatment plants and I learned a lot about fans, ductwork, and hazardous environments.
I had still planned to head off and make my fortune in the mining industry, but an offer to do a PhD after I graduated meant that I stayed in Sydney.
During my PhD studies, I started working part time with the former Bassett Consulting Engineers, simulating naturally ventilated and air conditioned spaces using computational fluid dynamics. This led to a full-time role in Bassett Applied Research as an ESD consultant, and my immersion into the HVAC&R industry.
What's your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
One of my best memories to date is being heavily involved in the design of the mixed-mode and natural ventilation spaces at the National Australia Bank (NAB) building in Melbourne’s Docklands. I built computational models that tested the effectiveness of the atrium roof; pressure effects on the front doors; wind simulation around the building; and thermal comfort and condensation control on surfaces. I also set up experiments to monitor thermal performance and wind pressure effects on the façade, and life-cycle testing of automated louvres.
My other great memory is the three years I spent as AIRAH National President, advocating for diversity, member growth, and championing the professional diploma in HVAC&R.
What’s something everyone should know about you, your work, or the HVAC&R industry?
We often speak about the lack of visibility of the HVAC&R industry.
People in the industry speak a unique language that the general public struggles to comprehend.
I think it is important that people learn the value of what HVAC&R brings to our lives. The cold food chain, comfort, medical and pharmaceutical, IT, infrastructure, and transport – most of our great advances in modern times have an HVAC&R component acting as an enabler, but this is often overlooked.
Showcasing this contribution is really important so people realise the value of what we do.
A truism of our industry is that a great HVAC&R solution is the one you don’t notice.
How long have you been a member of AIRAH?
I think I joined AIRAH in 2005 but first got involved in 2004, filling in as a speaker at a conference in Sydney – talking about mixed-mode ventilation solutions for commercial buildings.
How have you seen the industry change in your time?
I’d like to think I’m not old enough to see massive change, but the truth is that there has been a lot.
The use of technology is probably one of the most significant. When I started working, it was not uncommon for people to not have a personal computer, whereas now we have access to data clouds giving us real-time feedback on equipment via our mobile phones. We use simulation software in design without hesitation now, whereas once it was novelty or only for special projects that could afford the investment.
Energy efficiency has been a major driver throughout my career. The development of better and better controls enabled by the internet, advances in computer processing power, and AI has seen us move closer than ever to smart HVAC systems that can predict the environment and respond appropriately to minimise energy and emissions.
The roles of consultants, contractors, and original equipment manufacturers have changed over this time as well. Different procurement models, changes in risk allocation, shifts in design methodology, and system selection have all changed the way individuals and companies participate in the industry.
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
There is no doubt that changes in technology will continue to push the envelope in terms of control, efficiency, and comfort. We will see more AI, greater connectivity, and smarter buildings as part of a web of connected smart cities.
We will see a greater use of renewables and, with this, smarter energy storage and thermal storage solutions that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
We will see greater diversity in the industry.
Refrigerants will be a major topic for many years to come, and we will see the development of innovative new solutions that are good for our environment, safe, and incredibly efficient.
I think we currently sit on the threshold of a major wave of technological change that will have a positive impact on the industry over the next hundred years.