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Building Energy Analytics for Cooling and Heating is helping to fight climate change

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Author: Dr Arun Vishwanath, Senior Research Scientist, IBM Research

One of the defining challenges facing our society is climate change. Reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are at the core of this challenge. At IBM, we take climate change seriously, having stated for over a decade that this issue calls for meaningful action on a global scale [1]. For the past 25 years, IBM has demonstrated sustained leadership by first voluntarily disclosing the CO2 emissions associated with our energy consumption since 1994, being one of the first corporations to endorse the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 and receiving a Climate Leadership Award from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and The Climate Registry in 2019 [2]. Our actions speak for themselves – we have reduced our CO2 footprint relative to 2005 levels by 32%, and today, 38% of our global electricity consumption comes from renewable energy sources.

Our responsibility does not end there. Organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimate that buildings are one of the largest consumers of energy on the planet today. They are responsible for nearly 40% of global energy consumption, 50% of worldwide electricity use and 25% of all energy-related CO2 emissions [3,4]. Worse still, building energy consumption is projected to increase 1% annually, meaning they will consume 30% more energy relative to today’s levels by 2060. Clearly, this is not sustainable, warranting new solutions for enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings.

IBM Research Australia has embarked on a project called BEACH: Building Energy Analytics for Cooling and Heating, whose mission is to develop novel practical solutions to improve the environmental footprint of buildings. Specifically, the aim is to reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with operating the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, which provide climate control in commercial buildings. It is well-known that HVAC dominates building energy consumption, accounting for up to 70% of its energy demand. Curbing energy consumption of buildings is therefore of paramount importance, not only from a sustainability point of view but also economically, since electricity bills now routinely feature high on an organisation’s operating expenditure.

We have developed a new approach to operate building HVAC. BEACH is a cloud-based AI and data-driven integrated framework that dynamically controls the operation of the HVAC system to drive down both energy consumption and cost.

BEACH relies on a data-driven model to capture the temperature dynamics in different sections of a building, taking into account the impact of weather (leveraging The Weather Company), occupancy and other key system parameters. It then provides systematic recommendations, in terms of when the HVAC system should be activated/stopped, how temperature set-points should be adjusted in various sections of the building, and so on, so that energy consumption and costs can be kept to a minimum while ensuring that occupants experience the appropriate level of thermal comfort. Most importantly, BEACH is able to control the HVAC dynamically by actioning the recommendations securely and autonomously into any onsite Building Management System (BMS) located anywhere in the world. Simultaneously, it ‘closes the loop’ and constantly receives updated data on the building’s thermal, occupancy and energy patterns, so that the BEACH models continually provide the most desirable solution. The architecture of the BEACH system is shown below.

BEACH is currently deployed in a large office building located in northern Australia. The building houses 250 people across multiple levels spanning 3,500 square metres of floor space. The results demonstrate that cooling energy consumption can be reduced by up to 15%. To put this in perspective, the 15% reduction is equivalent to CO2 emissions from burning 13,000 kilograms of coal or 11,000 litres of petrol.

Our work is one of the first to demonstrate the potential feasibility and benefits of a closed-loop cloud-based HVAC control framework. The solution is low cost, BMS agnostic, easy to implement, requires no retrofits, and amenable to different types of buildings, which means it can be adopted across the globe today.

The solution is now commercially available via offerings from IBM Global Business Services, Lab Services and the Tririga Building Insights product. Our ongoing work is looking at the application of BEACH for heating as well as deployment in different types of buildings such as hospitals, university campuses, airports and shopping centres.

Climate change is a serious issue that has enormous ramifications for our society and future generations. The gravity of the problem requires solutions at multiple levels. BEACH focuses on one aspect namely to reduce the energy and carbon footprint associated with one of the most energy-consuming entities on the planet – buildings. IBM Research is also pursuing other exciting projects in its resolve to make the world a better place. These include transitioning to renewables and energy storage and new battery designs to alleviate environmental concerns.

Please get in touch with Arun Vishwanath who has been leading the research in BEACH for additional information and to learn how BEACH can help your buildings operate more efficiently.

References

[1] IBM Policy Lab: IBM and Climate Change: Early Action, Sustained Results, and Support for a Price on Carbon.

Last accessed: 6 Feb 2020

[2] 2019 Climate Leadership Award Winners

Last accessed: 6 Feb 2020

[3] United Nations Environment Programme: Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative.

Last accessed: 6 Feb 2020

[4] International Energy Agency – The Critical Role of Buildings

Last accessed: 6 Feb 2020

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