UC Berkeley researchers innovate the office space
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are working to cut commercial building energy consumption while giving office workers an atypical sense of control over their thermal environments.
Armed with a recently announced $1.6 million grant from the California Energy Commission, researchers from UC Berkeley's Center for the Built Environment (CBE) are testing and promoting a new set of tools that will enable more efficient temperature control in buildings by using input from building occupants, a network of web-based applications, and a user-responsive Personal Comfort System, or PCS. The PCS uses low-wattage devices embedded into a system of chairs, foot warmers and fans that can quickly warm or cool individual users on demand. The PCS system targets the most thermally sensitive parts of the body such as the face and head, and the torso and feet, to provide warmth or cooling as needed and as desired, rather than trying to maintain one temperature for an entire building or floor.
“It’s even better than having a thermostat at every workstation, if that were possible,” said Edward Arens, the project’s co-principal investigator, and a professor of architecture and director at CBE.
The Personal Comfort System's heating and cooling tools will also interface with smart phone apps, software, and sensors to relay building temperatures, weather forecasts, and thermal satisfaction responses to the people who currently make decisions about energy use in the building.
The PCS has energy-saving sensors that turn off when a space is not occupied and on average uses 2 watts for cooling and 40 watts for heating. In comparison, conventional space heaters operate at up to 1,500 watts. The foot warmers use energy-saving halogen bulbs operating at 20 watts on average over the course of a typical winter day, far from their maximum power of 160 watts. To top it off, the PCS operates on an easily rechargeable lithium ferrophosphate battery.
CBE estimates the new tools can cut natural gas use by 39 percent and electricity use by 30 percent for heating, ventilation and air conditioning in typical California commercial office spaces. They project that altogether the new system could save up to $62 million a year in energy costs int he state, while eliminating 247,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
In spite of compelling strong points, the research team acknowledged several barriers that must be overcome before these technologies are widely adopted by the building industry, including the slow pace of building industry innovation, legacy problems in existing HVAC control systems, and outdated industry standards. They hope to share their research with government agencies and professional organizations to help revise building standards and codes, and make it easier to provide the most useful information for utility energy conservation rebate and incentive programs.