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Smart buildings and smart grids only go so far in optimizing energy consumption in cities, the two need to be synchronized to complete the energy saving story.

As much as 40% of total energy consumption in the US comes from buildings. While great strides have been made to develop smart building energy saving technology alongside advancements in grid infrastructure, harmonizing technology is still emerging.

“Energy and buildings markets are beginning the tricky process of harmonization as major global firms look to capitalize on opportunities surrounding smart grids and distributed energy,” states our recent report Smart Buildings Meet the Smart Grid.

At The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Bing Dong, is using a $173,420 grant from the National Science Foundation to support his top-tier research in the development of smart cities. The grant is part of a White House initiative established last year to encourage the development of smart city technology.

“What we’re doing, essentially, is figuring out how to optimize the energy consumption of an entire community: from the buildings to the power grid,” Dong said.

President Obama’s program is encouraging technology collaborations that have the potential to assist communities in the US reduce traffic congestion, fight crime, foster economic growth, deliver city services and adapt to a changing climate. Professor Dong’s research focuses primarily on developing a program that will allow buildings in smart cities to minimize energy usage.

Dong is collaborating with fellow UTSA faculty members Ahmad Taha and Nikolaos Gatsis, both assistant professors of electrical and computer engineering, as well as faculty at the University of California, Riverside and utility company Southern California Edison. Dong’s team will test the new technology on more than 1000 buildings in Orange County, California.

His previous work, with former colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, introduced and illustrated a method for integrated building heating, cooling and ventilation control to reduce energy consumption and maintain indoor temperature set points, based on the prediction of occupant behavior patterns and local weather conditions.

Through his latest project Dong’s idea is to come up with a method that allows smart cities to collaborate in energy consumption by monitoring the behavior of people living inside the buildings and better understanding what drives energy consumption.

He plans to accomplish this through technologically advanced buildings electronically communicating with each other to make sure that energy consumption is balanced. That way, one building isn’t over using and another isn’t under using, which leads to energy savings.

The proposed strategy would also lead to more stable grid performance, which would eliminate black outs and spikes in energy prices during the winter and summer. Because power usage often surges during the hottest or coldest months, the power grid is frequently stressed from too much sudden demand. “When something is stressed, it breaks,” Taha said. “We want to keep our buildings and our grids stress-free.”

Dong’s algorithm intends to enable buildings to communicate with each other, to keep the power grid stable and unstrained. However, it’s not just about efficiency and a lower energy bill. “Smart cities are enabling people to communicate what’s happening in their energy consumption,” Dong said. “We’re trying to empower them to be more aware in what they’re consuming and demanding. That’s the future.”

Memoori sees the combined market for energy software in smart buildings rising to nearly $10Bn by 2020, with related software on the Smart Grid side growing at a healthy 12% CAGR to nearly $2bn by 2020. That figure was comprised of Enterprise Energy Management, BECS Supervisory Software and Smart Building to Smart Grid Interface Software, in our in-depth report on the emerging market.

The harmonization of the energy & buildings markets has begun, our report states. We certainly hope that Dong’s technology or similar developments can soon make a significant energy saving impact on the single largest consuming sector of our dangerously wasteful society.

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