Project Title:

Changing the Rules: Innovative Low-Energy Occupant-Responsive HVAC Controls and Systems

Reducing energy use in buildings, while improving occupant comfort.

Status (updated 2/4/15): Ongoing

Funding sources: California Energy Commission PIER and CBE Industry Consortium

Project Objective

Develop, evaluate, and demonstrate three innovation components that will reduce energy use in buildings while improving occupant comfort. This combination provides an integrated, comprehensive approach to correcting frequently occurring control problems in buildings. The components include: (1) low-energy personal comfort systems (PCS) that provide direct local heating and cooling to building occupants and test methods for assessing efficiency of PCS; (2) control improvements to variable air volume (VAV) reheat systems; and (3) open-source software for control systems.

Significance to Industry

By building on recent research and technological innovations in several fields, the project will create and demonstrate new products and operational practices, and perform the tasks leading to adoption of these products and operational practices in standards, codes, and common practice. The new technologies employ the improved sensing and information feedback that is now possible among the building, its operators, and its occupants. The combination of these techniques has the potential to eliminate 39% of natural gas use and 30% of electricity use for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) in typical California commercial office space. The new control paradigm applies equally to existing buildings as well as new designs, and will be a cost-effective way to achieve substantial reduction in HVAC energy use.

Research Approach

The project will further investigate a wide range of initial laboratory and field studies done by the team. Activities include development and demonstration of innovative personal comfort systems (PCS), VAV system control strategies, and web-based information systems. The team aims to accelerate the adoption of new building control technologies that are far more occupant-responsive and energy-efficient than current practice.

A common medium throughout this project will be the open-source software platform sMAP - simple Measurement and Actuation profile. Developed by the UCB Computer Science Dept., it is an overarching method for implementing control logic across existing control systems. It is a layer over BACNET and a wide range of control systems. It can connect HVAC to other systems, and can be addressed and influenced by occupants directly using ‘apps’ prepared for sMAP. Operators can also receive detailed feedback. Savings of 25% on total building energy, plug loads, and lighting have been seen with these and similar apps.

The project team will use diverse building types, building vintages, and building control systems on the UC Berkeley campus as a demonstration test bed. These innovations will support building energy performance design targets, as well as significant codes and standards advancement toward deep energy efficiency. and demonstrations of the practical application of a combined set of strategies and technologies in normally operating buildings. The demonstrations will include the renovation and recommissioning of an existing building with a conventional VAV system, and the integration into a new building with an advanced low-energy space conditioning systems, such as radiant, displacement ventilation, underfloor air distribution, and/or natural ventilation.

In the final phase a demonstration, a deployment and commercialization plan will be created to guide initiatives to take project technologies into the market.

Project Team

CBE faculty and researchers, led by the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), will work with the UC Berkeley Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and Taylor Engineering and TRC.


S. Kaam, P. Raftery, H. Cheng, G. Paliaga, 2017. "Time-averaged ventilation for optimized control of variable-air-volume systems." Energy and Buildings, Volume 139, 15 March 2017, ISSN 0378-7788.
Journal version
(paywall): Pre-print open source version (no formatting).

Heated-cooled chairCBE's heated and cooled chair will be used in field studies on the UC Berkeley campus.