Energy Efficient Smart Climate Controls

Posted in Energy, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia, climate, efficiency, electricity, environmental conditions, fuel costs, sensory inputs, technology, visual processing at 11:04 am by Jacob Canon

In today’s show, adapted from an article written by Brevy Cannon, general assignment writer for UVa’s Office of Public Affairs, we discuss the research of Ron Williams, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his teams research of how to make more intelligent climate control systems, to aid in energy efficiency.

It’s not a new energy-saving concept to turn down your thermostat at night, or leave your air conditioner off when no one is home. A research team plans to take that concept to the next level by using automated sensors and sophisticated software to enable heating and cooling systems to respond to the number of occupants in a room at any given time.

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The research team, which recently won a new UVa Collaborative Sustainable Energy Seed Grant worth about $30,000 to investigate how to make more intelligent climate control systems, includes Ron Williams, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, fellow electrical and computer engineer Paxton Marshall, John Quale, an assistant professor of architecture and director of UVa’s ongoing ecoMOD project, which involves studies of the energy efficiency of modular housing prototypes, and Cheryl Gomez, UVa’s director of utilities.

Williams said, “The volume of outside air that must be heated or cooled when 20 people are in a room is double that needed for 10, opening the possibility of significant energy savings from a climate control system that can respond to occupancy.” The most cost-effective measures to ensure adequate energy supplies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions come from energy conservation rather than new energy technologies.

Williams went on to say, “the idea of “intelligent building control” has been around since the 1970s. Only in recent years have computers and networking technology become so powerful and inexpensive that they could potentially be widely implemented in buildings at costs that could be justified in energy savings. Because the overall electric supply system is only about 33 percent efficient from fuel to end use, a one-unit reduction in consumption saves three units of new energy supply.

Williams has estimated that occupant-sensing technology could produce as much as a 9 percent energy savings during the heating season, but said he would be happy with even 2 to 3 percent energy savings.

To help keep down the cost of such systems, the U.Va. research team will create a sophisticated, but simple-to-customize, computer model of a building space that accounts for how the occupants and outside temperatures impact heating and cooling needs.

The team will monitor one University space, a student activity room called “The Forum” in the Observatory Hill Dining Hall, seeking to better match the amount of heating and cooling of the space to the precise number of occupants, without diminishing their perceived comfort.

Williams said, “the schedule of reservations for the room will be used as a starting point for predicting occupancy.” The team will install sensors — probably video cameras with image recognition software — to detect the comings and goings of people.

The team will correlate the occupancy data; predicted and actual, with measurements of air temperatures; inside and outside, air flows and electricity usage, to gradually improve their software model and controls.

The detecting poses several challenges, since people often come and go through the double doors in large groups and clumps, sometimes in both directions at once. Williams said, “it’s straightforward engineering, but — like the iPod — there are a lot of little problems that have to be overcome to make it all come together.I actually view this is as more of an embedded computing and information management problem rather than an energy management problem.”

Gomez said that she hopes that energy savings realized by this research can eventually be implemented more widely around Grounds. About one-third of the University’s 13.3 million square feet of space (in about 550 buildings) has been built or renovated since 1999, meaning the climate control systems are modern enough that they would benefit from intelligent building controls. In much of the rest, the heating and cooling systems are antiquated or in need of upgrades and would be largely unresponsive to short-term thermostat changes.

Gomez went on to say, “this problem has not yet been addressed aggressively, other “lower hanging fruit” offered more energy savings for lower costs, like installing fluorescent bulbs, LEDs and low-flow fixtures across Grounds… reducing climate control costs may be one of the next targets for saving energy at UVa.”

You’ve been listening to the Oscar Show, I’m Jacob Canon. Join us for our next show, when we will well discuss the research of Silvia Salinas Blemker, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, trying to identify reasons and mechanics of hamstring pulls.

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