A System that Senses: Revolutionizing HVAC with IoT

According to the US Department of Energy, in 2010 the US spent 42% of its energy used in buildings for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). This amounts to 29 billion dollars spent on HVAC alone. Can you imagine the amount of money and energy we could save by making our HVAC systems just 30% more efficient? Learn more about an IoT-based energy management system that can do just that.



A Guessing Game on a Grand Scale

    For large buildings, rooms are often conditioned assuming maximum occupancy for safety, when often, these rooms aren’t completely occupied. Not only is this inefficient, it also means that rooms are over-conditioned leaving many users too hot or too cold. We’re constantly guessing when it comes to how we traditionally operate our HVAC systems. The issue is that we are blind in two major aspects:
  1. How many people are in a room at a given time? And how does this change?
  2. What is the optimal temperature so that most people can be comfortable?
     Dr. Alberto Cerpa and his ANDES lab at UC Merced realized that by answering these two questions, it can be possible to adjust the indoor climate to its changing conditions. Fueled by curiosity they started work on studying and developing such a system that works in a smooth and efficient manner.

Educated HVAC

     It helps to know where the people are. If a large building only has a few rooms occupied with just a handful of people in each room, what is the point of cooling all the rooms in the building? If the HVAC system can see that there are people in a single room in a building, it can be informed to only cool that room; a process remarkably more efficient than cooling the whole building. The more informed and connected the system, the more efficient it can be. Understanding this, the ANDES team decided to develop an IoT platform utilizing thermal sensors that can sense in real time the number of people in a room.
“We’re constantly guessing when it comes to how we traditionally operate our HVAC systems.”
Wirelessly, these sensors communicate their data to a central server that operates the HVAC system. Analyzing the data over time, the system can learn from repeating patterns of usage, and accurately predict future occupancy to pre-condition the air of a room to provide a seamless user experience. After deploying and studying the results, the ANDES team found a reduction of average HVAC energy usage by 35%.
     Another challenge of sensing is in determining a way to know if people are comfortable or not. In order to make the environment inside buildings more pleasant for the user, we need a way to measure the quality of their experience. “Why not just ask the user directly?” the ANDES team questioned. A truly complete HVAC solution will keep the users in mind in order to make their experience better. The widespread adoption of smartphones and laptop computers allows for a convenient way to survey users in real time how they feel about the indoor air. With that in mind, the team developed an application that allows users to vote on a simplified scale of how they feel ranging from too hot or too cold. While not providing direct control over the thermostat, these votes influence the system such that if enough people feel it is too cold, the air will be heated accordingly. Knowing this data over time also allows for prediction models to be generated about user comfort, further making the experience efficient and seamless. Prior to implementing the system, 75% of surveyed users reported being dissatisfied with the indoor air. After the ANDES team conducted their trial with big data-fed prediction models, that number changed to 80% satisfied.

Smarter is Better

     Any effective HVAC system needs to include an awareness of occupancy and user comfort. Without this crucial information, the system will always be guessing for the correct temperature and level of conditioning. The results speak for themselves: a more informed HVAC system with IoT tech is more energy efficient and more effective at delivering user comfort with a 35% average reduction of energy usage and a 55% increase in user satisfaction. With Comfort and Occupancy Sensing as a foundation, Dr. Cerpa’s new venture Alsen has developed an IoT solution that guarantees the most desired aspects of HVAC are fulfilled: energy efficiency and comfort. We hope you join us in bringing one of our most inefficient and ineffective activities into the modern era, saving energy and improving user comfort for organizations.
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