UC Merced Update

Wireless Sensors Could Improve HVAC Efficiency


Alberto Cerpa   View the video  

UC Merced engineering Professor Alberto Cerpa, whose research focuses primarily on sensor networks and their various potential applications, is devising a system that uses wireless sensors and tiny cameras to provide real-time feedback regarding the current occupancy of rooms and hallways within a building.

That technology, combined with Cerpa’s computer algorithms that accumulate occupancy data and thereby create prediction models of future occupancy, could be used increase the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

HVAC uses up more energy at a greater cost than any other factor within a building, Cerpa said, but systems do not take advantage of technology that could make them much more efficient.

“The current (HVAC) technology in buildings is, I would say, quite primitive,” Cerpa said. “They assume people occupy the building during a certain time — say from 9 to 5 or 8 to 6 — and they run occupancy, ventilation and conditioning of rooms based on that schedule.

“The main issue is that there’s no feedback into the system to actually try to condition the rooms and the ventilation based on actual occupancy and actual usage.”

Cerpa’s simulations indicate that using HVAC systems in such an adaptive way — creating an optimal control strategy based on occupancy estimates and usage patterns — can result in a 14 percent reduction in energy usage.