HVAC man testing and working in factory

December 11, 2017

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Engineering researchers at The University of Alabama are part of a nationwide project to find ways of reducing energy used to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings.

Dr. Zheng O’Neill, UA assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is leading a team developing testing standards and control strategies for sensors used to control HVAC in commercial and residential buildings.

The goal is to provide a way for those who manage HVAC systems to know sensors work efficiently when detecting human movement and occupancy to control heating, cooling and ventilation.

“When we complete the work, we should be able to say that if we use this kind of sensor-driven control strategy, we can achieve HVAC energy savings of at least 30 percent,” O’Neill said.

UA received nearly $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, through its Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition, or SENSOR, program.

About 13 percent of all energy produced in the United States is used to heat, cool and ventilate buildings, with much of it wasted–used when buildings are unoccupied or not fully occupied. The SENSOR program supports innovative and highly accurate presence sensors and occupant counters that optimize HVAC of buildings while reducing cost and slashing energy use.

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.

The team will investigate various types of occupancy sensors, such as human-presence sensing, people counting, and carbon dioxide sensors for detecting failure rates and HVAC energy-saving potential in a wide range of real-world applications.

The proposed testing protocol and simulation suite, which can be used for any sensor-driven HVAC energy efficiency technology, 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 trial testing in four commercial buildings and four residential houses in two climate zones.