New technologies for better building performance

PG&E
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Necessity is truly the mother of invention. As businesses owners look to reduce costs and enhance indoor comfort, new technologies are constantly emerging to fill the need. Here, we highlight five, state-of-the-art devices that can help to increase energy efficiency and improve overall building performance.


1. Behavior management is now being incorporated into building automation systems. Wireless sensors correlate occupancy patterns and production processes with end-use energy consumption to identify savings opportunities. Features include:


  • Continuous behavior modeling to help make more intelligent energy decisions
  • Real-time tracking of energy consumption
  • User interface that sends email and text alerts for ongoing monitoring

In a pilot project involving an office building, behavior-driven operational changes resulted in energy savings of nearly 20 percent.


2. Invisible solar cells are designed to be integrated into building windows. This solar harvesting system uses tiny organic molecules that are tuned to absorb non-visible wavelengths of ultraviolet or near-infrared light. The light is then guided to thin strips of photovoltaic cells on the edge of the window panel, which convert the light to electricity. Such a system would be most effective in taller buildings with many windows.


3. Photonic radiative cooling removes infrared heat from within a building, while reflecting sunlight that would warm it up. Stanford Univ. researchers have developed an ultra thin coating that includes seven layers of oxide materials on top of silver. The silver absorbs heat from inside while the top layers reflect up to 97 percent of sunlight away from the surface. Together, the radiation and reflection make the coated surface nearly 9°F cooler than the surrounding air during the day. The coating is designed to be cost effective for large-scale deployment on building rooftops.


4. Electronically commutated motors (ECMs) include a microprocessor and electronic controls that can be programmed to vary motor speed based on demand. Unlike standard units, ECMs operate efficiently at all speeds, helping to save energy and money. Suitable for air filtration applications, most ECM models are easy to retrofit in existing HVAC systems and provide up to 50 percent energy savings for heating and cooling, and up to 80 percent savings for continuous ventilation.


5. Smart thermostats, originally designed for the residential market, are now capable of monitoring and controlling commercial buildings, such as restaurants and retail facilities. Software provides access to multiple thermostats and other linked wireless devices, which are controlled from a single web portal using a PC or mobile device. One field test at a small cabinet shop resulted in an electrical savings of 45,000 kWh per year, with a payback of less than two years.


These are just a few of the leading-edge technologies that can help you save money and improve your indoor environment. Stay tuned for what's next.


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