University Of Alabama Research Looks To Improve HVAC Systems With Sensors

These days technology is being developed with the idea of environment friendliness built in, a concept that the HVAC industry is making steps towards, seeing as how an HVAC system is usually seen as one of the bigger energy consumers in a building.

Research from the University of Alabama is looking to improve the affordable air conditioning unit in one’s home by installing sensors. The research effort, lead by Dr. Zheng O’Neill, is aimed at finding ways of reducing the energy used by HVAC systems to do their job of heating, cooling and ventilating buildings. The team’s efforts lie in developing testing standards as well as control strategies for sensors, in order to allow them to increase the efficiency of HVAC systems operating in both commercial and residential buildings.

The end goal is to allow sensors on HVAC systems to work efficiently by detecting human occupancy and activity levels in order to adjust the heating, cooling and ventilation.

Dr. O’Neill says that, when the research is complete and implemented, it is expected to result in any HVAC system using the research’s results to cut down on energy use by around 30%, meaning that any affordable air conditioning unit will now be even more affordable, seeing as how energy consumption is one of the bigger costs with an HVAC system.

The team will be testing several types of occupancy sensors, like people counting, or carbon dioxide sensors, comparing failure rates and HVAC energy reduction in several simulated real-world scenarios.

The research received approximately $1.5M worth of funding from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a division of the US Department of Energy. The funding of the UA research was part of its cleverly named Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition, or SENSOR program.

Approximately 13% of all energy produced in the US goes to HVAC systems, with a considerable amount of it wasted due to being used to ventilate building that are either unoccupied or not occupied enough. The SENSOR program is aimed at supporting innovative and accurate sensors designed to optimize building HVAC systems in order to reduce cost and energy use.