Owners of small commercial buildings can now find energy savings in a suitcase, thanks to technology transfer. Researchers from two federal laboratories packed a suitcase-based kit with technology to help the owners of small commercial buildings improve energy efficiency.
This technology can lead to whole-building energy savings estimated at 10%. In addition to lower energy bills, savings are also associated with faster and easier retro-commissioning, since anyone can identify energy-saving opportunities that would typically require the hands-on labor and expertise of a team of building engineers.
The Retro-commissioning Sensor Suitcase — an “expert in a suitcase” — is a portable case containing 16 matchbox-sized, battery-powered sensors designed for use in commercial buildings of 50,000 square feet or smaller. Retro-commissioning refers to the process of analyzing and improving the functionality of systems within an existing building.
Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed the suitcase hardware, sensors and tablet software. A team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) developed the algorithms to analyze the data, the analysis software and its user interface.
Following easy-to-use, tablet-based graphical instructions, the user mounts the sensors in specific locations throughout the building — for example, on lighting fixtures, near thermostats and on rooftop heating and air-conditioning systems.
This technology can lead to whole-building energy savings estimated at 10%.
The sensors are designed to measure conditions that affect energy use, such as indoor and outdoor temperature and whether lights are on. Four to six weeks after initial deployment, the user collects the sensors and puts them into their slots in the suitcase. Data from the sensors are transferred to a personal computer for analysis. A report is quickly generated on the computer screen with building-specific energy savings recommendations.
The Retro-commissioning Sensor Suitcase was licensed GreenPath Energy Solutions of Orlando, Florida, in April 2017 via a non-exclusive agreement, and the patent was granted in December 2018. The PNNL commercialization manager connected GreenPath with Zepher, a prototyping company based in Bingen, Washington, which GreenPath contracted to manufacture a commercial prototype.
PNNL then executed an inter-institutional agreement with LBNL that allowed PNNL to take the lead on intellectual property and marketing of the technology. This streamlined licensing activity so that the licensees could negotiate with just one entity to secure access to patents and copyrights required to commercialize the platform.
Additionally, since the license was non-exclusive, PNNL kept four prototypes in working order to send to additional potential licensees and end users for evaluation. As GreenPath’s prototype continues to mature into a commercially viable product, pilot testing is underway with BC Hydro in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Integrated Design Lab/Idaho Power in Boise. GreenPath plans additional testing with the US Army and Willdan Energy Solutions/Con Edison in Brooklyn, New York.
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