Changing the Rules: Innovative Low-Energy Occupant-Responsive HVAC Controls & Systems

This multi-disciplinary UC Berkeley-led research collaboration is Changing the Rules focusing on building occupants rather than rigid engineering of building environments to be consistent with comfort “norms”. The research project aims to integrate new information technologies into innovative, occupant-responsive control systems building heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) controls, employing improved sensing and new capabilities for information feedback among the building, its operators, and its occupants.

The effort is a joint project of the UC Berkeley Center for the Built Environment (CBE) and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS), the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), and Taylor Engineering, a private firm specializing in energy conservation, controls, and systems.

The research takes a comprehensive approach, using new technologies to deliver more comfortable, energy-efficient indoor environments. The project employs a range of “personal comfort systems” — low-energy fans, foot warmers, heated and cooled office chairs, and other products that provide direct and individualized heating and cooling options for building occupants. It also integrates an array of fast-emerging information technologies to optimize indoor air-flow, give building occupants more individualized control over temperature, and poll occupants to gauge their comfort and provide feedback to control systems.

Project leaders predict that these innovations can eliminate 39% of natural gas use and 30% of electricity use for HVAC in typical California commercial office spaces. In California alone, they calculate, the advances could save $62 million in energy costs and reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by some 247,000 tons each year.

Building on advances in technology in many related areas, the project is creating and demonstrating new products and operational practices, and plans to promote their adoption into building and energy-efficiency standards, codes, and common practice.

The UC Berkeley campus is an initial test bed for proving and demonstrating these new products and practices. The diverse types, uses, sizes, and ages of campus buildings and their control systems — combined with UC Berkeley’s targets for deep reductions in energy use — make it an excellent testing ground for project’s planned innovations.