Field Notes Research Update — Fall 2016
This blog post is taken from our Field Notes newsletter which features updates on CEE's research projects. Sign up for Field Notes to get this information in your inbox!
Fall 2016 Research Updates:
CEE’s 2016 Department of Energy grants
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) funding for four different projects, a record number for the organization. CEE is the lead for one project and will serve as a partner on the other three.
Aerosol sealing in single-family homes — CEE will lead this research through the DOE’s Building American program to better integrate aerosol envelope sealing into the home building process.
Multifamily building code compliance — As a key partner to project lead Ecotope, CEE will help develop and field-test repeatable methodologies to improve compliance and benchmarking in low-rise multifamily buildings.
Strategies for solar evolution and diffusion in Minnesota — With project leadership through the Minnesota Department of Commerce, CEE will support work to combine stakeholder engagement with technical analysis to support Minnesota’s deployment of solar electricity.
Supply-side efficiencies in electric utility infrastructure — CEE is a partner to the Minnesota Department of Commerce on this project to address supply-side efficiency opportunities in the electric generation sector, including transmission efficiency and voltage regulation.
All four projects have either begun or are scheduled to begin work in the coming months. Stay up to date on our progress at our website and in future Field Notes.
Projects below are supported in part by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, through its Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) program, with co-funding by CEE in support of its nonprofit mission to advance research, program design, and knowledge dissemination in the field of energy efficiency.
Pilot program for small embedded data centers
Small embedded data centers (SEDCs) are among the fastest growing users of electrical energy in commercial buildings. Through field studies and stakeholder engagement, this project gathers information to improve the operational efficiency of SEDCs in commercial and industrial settings. The project team is currently monitoring data center energy use and working to identify savings opportunities at 11 sites. The next step will be to implement energy efficiency measures and determine the potential savings.
There have been a few surprises so far: First, the project team initially expected to identify server virtualization as an important energy efficiency measure. However, all but one of the data centers in this study already employ some level of server virtualization. Second, the team found an unexpected, yet significant, HVAC-related opportunity in many selected sites — most of the sites have dedicated cooling for the server rooms and could optimize the delivery of cooled air and the removal of hot air through better airflow management. Beyond that, the majority of the measures will be implemented on the server side and the team will work with site IT staff to implement the measures. The project team will complete and begin dissemination of its final report in early 2017.
Cold climate air source heat pump assessment
Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) have the potential to improve space heating efficiency and reduce energy costs for houses in cold climates where natural gas is unavailable. This study assesses the efficiency and reliability of new generation ASHPs in Minnesota’s cold climate homes to determine how to best integrate this technology into utility efficiency programs. The project team finished installing ASHPs at all six locations and will continue monitoring through the next heating season. Three of the heat pumps were installed prior to last heating season and researchers have already begun to analyze this data, which they presented at the 2016 ACEEE Summery Study in August. One of the systems is not meeting performance expectations at low temperatures, so the team is completing system checks on all six systems to determine the cause of this drop in performance and confirm that the other five systems are operating properly.
The research team is also evaluating the cost effectiveness of cold climate ASHPs to determine if it is best to install ASHPs in new construction and end of furnace life, or if it can be cost effective to replace an existing system. Since ASHPs make the most sense for homes in areas where natural gas is unavailable, the variation in propane and fuel oil cost has a big impact on this cost analysis.
Note: Read the blog post on this project in CEE's blog.
Field study of a moisture and heat transfer furnace retrofit device
Single-family space heating is among the largest uses of energy in Minnesota and, as few furnaces are replaced before failure, there is immense potential for savings through furnace retrofits. New transport membrane humidifier (TMH) technology developed by the Gas Technology Institute can retrofit older, mid-efficiency furnaces to significantly increase their energy efficiency. Since the TMH is a new type of technology, the project team faced some challenges getting permits in the project’s early stages. However, they were able to work with city staff and a third party testing agency to address concerns and accommodate the project. The team was then able to install the device at three sites — in addition to the initial site which was installed last year — for a total of four installations. While this is a small sample, each of the sites represent a unique combination of occupant density and air tightness, providing a good variety of situations to help the team better understand how the TMH works in a broad range of existing environmental conditions.
Results for the first house from last heating season were promising: Performance of the standard efficiency furnace improved by 11% to 14% when equipped with the TMH while the average humidity in the house increased by about 3% to 4% when the TMH was operating. All of the installations are now complete and ready to run on full TMH mode for the upcoming heating season. And as the team became more comfortable with the device, they were able to decrease the final two installation times to less than half a day each, which will be important in the eventual cost-effectiveness evaluation on the TMH.
Commercial building plug load reduction strategies
Plug load is the fastest growing energy use in U.S. commercial buildings, in stark contrast to decreases in other end uses such as cooling and lighting. This project characterizes commercial building plug load and evaluates various reduction strategies. The field team completed monitoring at all eight sites, and project lead Seventhwave has completed the data analysis and submitted a draft final report. At all sites computer power management achieved the highest level of savings, and it was clear that a behavior campaign was crucial to driving savings. Project partner LHB will meet with all of the sites to share site specific results and discuss any lessons learned.
This summer the project team added CEE’s office as a test site, with a twist — unlike at the other sites, the team allowed each participant to choose the type of power strip (occupancy sensor or foot pedal) that would be installed at their desk, to see if such freedom of choice would increase satisfaction rates and overall savings. The results were mixed. Here at CEE, the largest portion of plug load comes from computers and monitors; staff does not have a lot of extra plug load. The team had initially implemented computer power management with all participants, which resulted in savings from the monitors’ plug load, so the power strips did not make much of an impact given the minimal additional load. A final report with complete results will be available in the coming months.
Quality installation and retrocommissioning of condensing boilers
While high-efficiency condensing boilers have been available in the residential market for many years, consumer acceptance and market penetration is low. One contributing factor is the widespread belief that many installed condensing boilers are not achieving their listed efficiency. CEE is working with the Neighborhood Energy Connection to characterize existing boilers and determine practical and cost-effective steps to improve performance through both retrocommissioning and improved installation. The project team found that the existing boilers in the study performed between 88% and 96% efficiency, and optimization improved the efficiency by only a percentage point or two. A big reason for this is that the controls performed well, decreasing the possibility for any variation or issues in the installation process. Given these results, the project’s focus has shifted from retrocommissioning solutions to the installation process — seeking either to identify specific steps to ensure high performance, or to determine if high-efficiency condensing boilers perform well regardless. The project team is in the process of installing seven or more new boilers for monitoring over the upcoming heating season, concentrating on identifying what is needed for a “quality installation” to achieve the listed efficiency from the start. The final report is due in 2017.
Field study of intelligent, network, retrofittable water controller
The Aquanta smart water heater controller is a device designed for existing water heaters to monitor and control hot water energy use from a smart device or home networking platform. This study validates the field performance, cost-effectiveness, direct energy savings, and demand-side management capabilities of the Aquanta. The project team installed the Aquanta at 13 sites around the state and is continuing recruitment, with the goal of installing the device at 50 total sites with a mix of both gas and electric water heaters. Ten of the selected sites are considered “M&V” (measurement and verification) sites and have additional monitoring equipment that allows the team to gather more information for in-depth analysis. The remaining sites have only the Aquanta controller installed, which pairs with home WiFi to collect data that can be accessed by a connected smart device or home networking platform. Monitoring will continue through the winter to collect data and determine the savings potential under a variety of temperatures.
The Aquanta is a brand new device, and this project makes use of some of the first units to be installed. As with any new device, there has been a learning curve to the installation process, but the team of CEE, Aquanta, and the Gas Technology Institute has worked together to troubleshoot and solve issues as they arise.
The project team is currently recruiting Minnesota residents to participate in this study.