Intuitive & Solar Buildings
At EDL, we are using cutting-edge technology to develop what we call anticipatory and intuitive energy end-use systems for buildings. Our goal is to demonstrate a suite of technologies by 2015 that – when used together – will cut energy use by more than half when compared to today's best practices.
The underlying premise is that considerable energy is wasted in building illuminating, heating, cooling, ventilating, and providing other energy-related services that are unnecessary given the tasks being performed by occupants at any given time. For example, today's office lighting systems are based on a nearly 100 year old paradigm that suggests we must design and build "static" office lighting systems for worst-case-scenario lighting needs, e.g., the number of foot-candles required for older occupants to read 10 point font while sitting at a desk. Younger occupants and those performing other tasks such as having meetings, working at a computer workstation, and talking on the telephone need considerably less light. With the advent of technologies such as machine vision, light emitting diodes, wireless communication, sensors/controls, robotics, and RFID, the existing paradigm is becoming outdated and transformational systems-level change is possible.
EDL’s research initiative is to develop “Human Behavior Centric Intelligent Sensor & Control Systems” and create a new standard. We are developing advanced processing and analysis techniques that transform raw sensor data from video, LiDAR/IR, thermometers, humidity sensors, etc. into intelligent information that decodes the scene by knowing the activity of occupants, properties of the environment/furniture/light sources, and learning occupant behavioral patterns. Such intelligence drives control algorithms that can make decisions on adjusting lighting systems, air-conditioning systems, and other indoor environmental parameters to optimize energy usage in smart buildings.
Advanced Solar Energy Systems
Solar energy systems are more effective when they are adaptive, multifunctional, and capable of responding to multiple end‐use needs. Sunlight has many uses in buildings (producing interior light, radiant heat, hot water, and electricity), and the value of these uses changes over time based on occupants’ needs. At EDL, we are using alternative thinking to develop adaptive solar energy systems capable of addressing multiple needs while tripling the overall solar efficiency when compared to single‐purpose solar electric technologies.
For example, researchers have developed methods to use solar energy to generate electricity and heat water, and, more recently, to illuminate the interiors of buildings. Each of these end‐use applications has drawbacks. Generating electricity from solar energy has yet to prove economical without incentives because of material constraints and inefficiencies in the photoelectric conversion process. Solar hot water heaters — as currently designed — are plagued by complicating factors in colder climates that limit their market penetration. Hybrid solar lighting systems waste the infrared portion of the solar spectrum, as well as misusing the visible portion of sunlight when areas being illuminated are unoccupied.
EDL is partnering with other public/private research entities to develop and demonstrate adaptive and multifunctional solar energy systems capable of being used in a host of end‐use applications in commercial buildings. The basic ideas underpinning the initiative are that:
- Sunlight has many possible end‐use applications in enclosed structures, including both direct use (as interior lighting and radiant heating of occupants) and indirectly, through energy conversion and storage (into hot water and electricity);
- The relative economic value of various end‐uses of solar energy in buildings is different and may change over time based on building occupant needs; and
- It is technically and economically feasible to develop adaptive, multifunctional solar energy systems capable of addressing several building end‐use needs, while tripling the overall solar energy utilization efficiency when compared to single‐purpose solar electric technologies.
EDL is leading an effort to coalesce an industry, university, and national lab research partnership to co‐develop and demonstrate:
- A unified analytical model to determine the relative efficiency and cost‐effectiveness of various uses of solar energy based on a number of input parameters and preliminary adaptive system designs
- Experimental methods of using different portions of the solar spectrum for different end‐use applications
- Experimental methods of optical switching from one end‐use application of solar energy to another
- Methods of sensing and responding to changing building occupant needs
- A fully‐functional prototype adaptive solar energy system installed in an enclosed structure capable of optimizing the use of solar energy in as many as four areas (lighting, radiant heating of occupants, hot water heating, and electricity generation)
Early assessments suggest that such an intelligent solar energy system will leapfrog state‐of‐the‐art technologies by more than tripling the performance and cost‐effectiveness of solar energy when compared to existing, single‐user solar electric products in widespread use today. We anticipate that the initiative will take five years at a total research cost of approximately $50 million. It will require a unique multidisciplinary team of optical physicists, electrical and mechanical engineers, actuator, sensor, and control engineers, solar and illumination engineers, and computer scientists and engineers.