Sabbatical Research Targets Green Building Technology

Dr. Peter Luh, the SNET Professor of Communications and Information Technologies, is spending his academic sabbatical leave contributing to the development of energy efficient, safe and secure buildings. As a Visiting Fellow in the Systems Department of United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), he serves on a project team associated with the Tsinghua-UTC Research Institute for Integrated Building Energy, Safety and Controls — a collaborative center linking researchers from UTRC and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

peter luh photoDr. Luh explained that the goal of developing green, comfortable and secure buildings is a noble, but not merely altruistic, aim. Successful technologies for automating and integrating diverse building systems will enjoy enormous commercial advantages and help to advance the science and engineering underpinning a number of grand theoretical challenges. He noted that with its dominance in HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning), elevator, fire and security, power technologies and energy systems, United Technologies Corporation is well positioned to provide leadership in the development of green and secure building technologies.

One of the challenges in developing integrated systems that will drive green, secure building design and operation is the need to facilitate communication and coordination among the multiple environmental and security systems. “Integrating the various building systems can exploit their interdependencies for outstanding performance and at reduced costs,” Dr. Luh remarked.

This challenge is the focus of Dr. Luh’s current efforts. A respected expert in the design of auction methods for deregulated electricity markets, electricity load and price forecasting, facility energy management, and planning, scheduling, and coordination of design, manufacturing, and service activities, Dr. Luh is interested in optimizing the performance of HVAC systems, which he said consume a whopping 40% of a commercial building’s electricity in the U.S. Through data collection, system analysis, and online optimization, he explained, “We should be able to improve energy efficiency of existing buildings, reduce their energy related costs, and provide an estimate about the potential for further improvement.”

The advantages of installing such smart, green building systems on a massive scale are enormous. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the U.S. alone, commercial and residential buildings account for 39 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions and 70 percent of electrical consumption each year. And during the next 25 years, the U.S. Green Building Council predicts that CO2 emissions from commercial buildings will grow faster than any other sector of the economy.

This stark reality underpins Dr. Luh’s interest: “People spend a lot of effort on trying to save energy within their homes and targeted buildings. We want to develop a set of standardized methods that can be used across various building scales and needs.” Of particular interest is a means for HVAC to be able to detect and diagnose faults. This capability, which Dr. Luh refers to as “building energy doctors,” involves the use of advanced system theory, and is believed to be scalable.

The development of energy efficient buildings goes hand-in-hand with the world-wide push for Smart Grid and advanced metering infrastructure. Currently, standard electric metering systems provide information concerning electricity usage and the peak demand that occurred over a billing period, e.g., a month, he said, but they are passive recorders that provide no dynamic pricing information or control, “So people end up just looking at them and maybe lowering the thermostat in response to high electrical bills.” The Smart Grid systems he envisions would be equipped with advanced metering that links dynamic pricing with real-time supply and demand. Metering isn’t difficult, he said. “The question is how to make building equipment and home appliances, such as HVAC, hot water heaters, washers and dryers, etc., sense the prices and optimize accordingly in an automated manner. There should be significant market opportunities for smart building equipment and home appliances with the corresponding needs for new algorithmic methods and protocols.”

The Tsinghua-UTC Institute supports state-of-the-art advancements in three key areas: energy efficiency, natural and man-made disaster studies, and intelligent and networked systems. Dr. Luh is a member of the Chair Professors Group, of the Center for Intelligent and Networked Systems, a center within Tsinghua University that participates in the Institute.

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