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Virginia Tech helps smaller commercial buildings increase energy efficiency

May 18, 2017

Saifur Rahman and four Ph.D. students in Building Energy Management Open Source Software lab.
Saifur Rahman meets with Ph.D. students in the Building Energy Management Open Source Software lab to discuss results of the Department of Energy-sponsored study.

The energy efficiency of three small-to-medium-sized buildings in Virginia — two in the National Capital Region and one in Blacksburg — has increased significantly as the result of a recently completed Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In some instances, energy savings was as high as 40 percent.

The institute, located at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, received a three-year, $2 million dollar grant from the Department of Energy to continue research and development of its Building Energy Management Open Source Software (BEMOSS) for commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or less.

The project included the 25,000-square-foot Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs at 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria; the 5,000-square-foot Arlington Equipment Bureau at 2701 South Taylor Street, Arlington; and a 41,301-square-foot retail and office building at 460 Turner Street, Blacksburg.

While buildings like these account for more than 90 percent of commercial buildings in the United States and 50 percent of the energy consumed each year, they are at a disadvantage because they cannot afford to install high-price commercial energy management systems.

Vendors for building energy management systems do not find the small- and medium-sized commercial building market profitable enough to develop solutions for them, said Saifur Rahman, the Joseph R. Loring Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Advanced Research Institute.

“The Virginia Tech open source alternative software platform — which will work from a tablet, smartphone, or computer — is a good alternative for them,” Rahman said.

The open-architecture BEMOSS system offers scalability and robustness, as well as local and remote monitoring. Because it can work with load control devices from different manufacturers that operate on different communication technologies and protocols, the system can more effectively adjust temperature and lighting to account for changes in a building’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and lighting levels during the day.

Following are some examples of energy savings from the project:

  • A two-degree set point increase resulted in a 10 percent electricity savings over a 22-day period in the Alexandria building.
  • Adjusting light intensity level from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a two-month period resulted in a 45 to 50 percent energy savings in various areas, i.e. conference rooms, open areas, desk areas, etc. in  the Arlington building.  (The average energy savings for the entire study period was about 40 percent.)
  • On two summer days, setting the temperature five degrees higher than normal in the Blacksburg building brought a 14 percent reduction in electricity without causing any discomfort to building occupants.

“Interconnection among systems not only improves occupant comfort and reduces use and costs of energy, but can ultimately lower the cost of owning and operating the building,” Rahman said.

Virginia Tech began developing the Building Energy Management Open Source Software in late 2013 as one of the three groups chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy for this work. At the end of 2014, Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute was down-selected by the department to be the sole entity to continue further research and development. This research is a follow up to a National Science Foundation grant that the Advanced Research Institute received in 2011 in the area of smart building management.

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