Building Technologies

Reducing HVAC Energy Use with Sensors

18 December 2017

About 13 percent of all energy produced in the U.S. is used to heat, cool and ventilate buildings. HVAC systems are huge energy consumers -- 37 percent of all energy used by commercial buildings goes toward HVAC, along with 40 percent of residential energy use. Much of this energy is wasted when buildings are unoccupied or not fully occupied.

With funding from the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) program, University of Alabama engineers are developing testing standards and control strategies for sensors used to control HVAC systems.

The goal is to provide a way for HVAC system managers to know sensors work efficiently when detecting From left, researchers Dr. Fei Hu, Dr. Zheng O’Neill and Dr. Charles O’Neill stand in front of HVAC controllers connected to a computer that can simulate conditions in a commercial building. Source: University of AlabamaFrom left, researchers Dr. Fei Hu, Dr. Zheng O’Neill and Dr. Charles O’Neill stand in front of HVAC controllers connected to a computer that can simulate conditions in a commercial building. Source: University of Alabamahuman movement and occupancy to control heating, cooling and ventilation. No tools are available to fully assess and validate presence sensors and people-counting technologies. In order to enable widespread adoption of such technologies for both retrofit and new building scenarios, the researchers will develop a way to validate energy-saving claims.

SENSOR project teams can take advantage of existing low-cost wireless and electronic communication technologies and could reduce HVAC energy usage by 30 percent, while simultaneously addressing user requirements for cost, privacy and usability. Building spaces, usage patterns and HVAC systems vary widely, posing challenges for validating the energy savings from a particular technology in the building space.

Human-presence sensing, people-counting and carbon dioxide sensors will be evaluated for detecting failure rates and HVAC energy-saving potential in a range of real-world applications.

The proposed testing protocol and simulation suite can be used for any sensor-driven HVAC energy efficiency technology and will be tested and validated in side-by-side laboratory controlled environments at the Delos Well Living Lab and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Lab Homes, and in field trials in commercial and residential buildings in two climate zones.

Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Taylor Engineering, an engineering firm in California, are also participating in the project.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com


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