Research points toward ‘intelligent’ buildings’

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Photo by Zeenat Mansoor.

Yale’s Intelligent Buildings Project found that the power costs of LEED-silver-certified Rosenkranz Hall could be reduced by roughly 30 percent with a novel air-handling system, which it hopes will eventually feature in buildings across the country.

A five-person research team, led by electrical engineering professor Andreas Savvides and School of Architecture professor Michelle Addington, is designing a power system that divides the building into zones in which air handling is individually and automatically operated based on real-time occupancy. Utilities and Engineering Director Anthony Kosior, whose department has helped carry out the evaluation of Rosenkranz, said Yale would not likely install the proposed system in buildings on campus in the near future, though he added that the University could benefit from the group’s monitoring system to measure energy use on campus.

“Taking what is already there, we can manipulate the way heating and cooling systems function and adjust it to the behavior of occupants,” Savvides said. “Even in a building with new infrastructure and equipment [like Rosenkranz], we can cut down electricity costs significantly.”

The Intelligent Buildings Project, which began in 2010, received a $200,000 grant from Wells Fargo in December, but Addington said the group “could really use” more researchers and architects. She added that she is reaching out to “extremely large international organizations” to help with the data analysis.

As part of the Intelligent Building Project’s efforts to recruit researchers, it is hosting an informal seminar this spring semester. Savvides said the seminar, which has met twice so far and invites professors to speak about topics related to the project, attracted around 50 graduate students to the first meeting and around 100 to the second.

In the group’s first project, it installed sensors and power meters throughout Rosenkranz to track temperature and power consumption. The current heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in Rosenkranz is operated according to a rigid schedule, comprising 52 percent of the building’s total electricity consumption, according to the group’s report of initial findings.

The team calculated that implementing its “intelligent” HVAC system throughout campus would save $5 million dollars annually if it reduced electricity costs by 20 percent — a conservative estimate compared to the predicted savings in Rosenkranz.

Addington said the group hopes to replicate their study in buildings on West Campus and eventually extend the model beyond Yale’s campus.

“We have to see how generalizable this system is [to other buildings],” Addington said. “It might take some years, and we’re focusing not just on buildings on campus, but also standard office buildings.”

But Kosier said the group’s estimation of 20 percent cost reduction across the University may be too “aggressive” since Rosenkranz houses primarily offices and classrooms, which offer more potential savings for occupancy-driven systems than would buildings with labs that require 24-hour ventilation and operation of equipment.

He added that Yale Facilities already conducts seasonal reviews of buildings on campus to find ways to optimize the heating schedule.

Rosenkranz Hall, built less than three years ago, houses faculty and staff members from the Political Science Department, the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale and the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs.

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