Energy Efficient Buildings: Smarter Structures

Following the California energy crisis of 2000 to 2001, the California Energy Commission (CEC) funded pilot programs in Time-of-Use, Critical Peak Pricing, and Real-Time Pricing. From these pilots the CEC concluded that “Price responsive demand will enhance the competitiveness of electricity markets.” The CEC then began a series of initiatives that led to Demand Response (DR), the capability of a building environment to reduce power consumption in response to a signal, usually transmitted by a utility company. The shift to dynamic electricity pricing from flat-rates and the demand responsiveness requirements changes the paradigm for building control systems. Systems must now balance both mechanical objectives with user price preferences in an environment of increasing energy prices.


Researchers at

Berkeley are developing “Smart Dust” microelectronics devices that enable whole-building control paradigms that not only improve building efficiency, but also the quality of the indoor environment and the understanding and engagement of the occupants in effectively managing the buildings. They have developed a series of wireless-based sensor and actuators that control the heating/cooling/lighting of buildings. The work, funded by the CEC and Center for the Built Environment, reduces both the energy consumption of homes and small commercial buildings, and makes buildings ‘demand-responsive’ to shortages in the state’s electricity supply grid. In addition to control systems, the sensors and data networks can also be used for building commissioning and fault detection, two steps that are rarely done properly in buildings today due to the lack of fine-resolution environmental and energy-use data. This group has incorporated the latest sensor network into a mobile cart that is now being used to commission a major corporate headquarters in

New York City. The sophistication and speed of the commissioning process are being markedly increased.


Next Steps: The research today is focusing on micro-integrated packaging for individual micro-devices and sub-components (radios, sensors, scavengers etc.) that will become integral to smart homes and smart infrastructures. A prototype of the Pico-cube is shown below as an example of a proposed “way forward.” We see the Pico-cube as a very early prototype of an ultra low-cost microelectronics package for the following:

– Make micro-electronic technologies significantly less expensive and thus more appealing to the commercial sector who will supply next generation thermostats, meters, sensor systems and other products that ultimately arise in the commercial sector, enabled by the ongoing research work in energy efficiency.

– Accelerate innovations in the electricity sector by integrating technologies into “packages” that do not, today, exist in the marketplace.

– Package (micro-integrate) technology in forms/footprints that meet many electricity related applications in

California including energy efficiency (EE), distribution automation (DA) and other electricity-related areas.