The rise of smart building technology often makes energy efficiency feel like a technical problem, where better devices, configurations, and maintenance can provide the solution. Buildings are human spaces, however, where occupant decisions can be some of the most influential factor in how energy is used and how it can be saved.
While some advanced technological solutions now focus on quantifying human behavior and analyzing it to predict and optimize energy use, they often struggle for accuracy and acceptance. Rather than feeding big data engines with occupant information, a recently completed EU project shows how to improve energy efficiency by feeding occupants with building data, thereby empowering them to make efficient choices.
The 3-year, EU-wide InBetween Project officially ended yesterday and concluded that we can improve energy efficiency by an estimated 20% simply by enabling users to recognize inefficiencies, understand how they can reduce waste, and inspire them to act on that knowledge. Borrowing from the theory of social practice the project presents a fundamentally user-centric approach —not to create energy-efficient buildings but to create energy-efficient occupants.
“We’re going beyond existing ICT technologies used for encouraging behavioral change towards more energy-efficient ways of life. This is being achieved by assisting users to identify energy waste, learn how they can conserve energy, and motivate them to act,” explains project coordinator Donato Zangani. “A range of services, such as scheduling, timely notifications and benchmarking provide a right mix of socioeconomic and environmental motivations to save energy. The actuators and notifications help make energy savings easy and, at times, seamless.”
The platform essentially monitors the energy consumption of individual homes and buildings to determine the ideal time to activate specific appliances in order to minimize costs and optimize any potential presence of renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines. That actionable insight is then presented to the homeowner or facility manager for them to make their own decisions on how and where to make changes according to their own unique needs and preferences. While user monitoring may raise some suspicion, the fact that the information is used to empower users to make their own decisions about cost-saving and environmental responsibility appears to overcome privacy concerns.
“As a community, we are interested in an environmentally friendly lifestyle already for a long time. Also personally I am in line with the projects, as I am interested in new technologies as well,” said Mr. Piringer, a participant in the Austrian demo of the InBetween project. “Thanks to the in-time information about room-temperature we, for example, realized that we were overheating some rooms without need. Also, the scheduling function is very helpful to use electrical appliances only when you really need them. This was helping us during this winter with one auxiliary room, where we increased our comfort a lot while at the same time heating less, thanks to better timing.”
Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the InBetween Project is now developing partnerships to bring the full platform to market. The proposed platform would provide energy performance evaluation and benchmarking service, which considers current consumption, occupancy, and weather conditions, while also using competition as a driver to promote energy-efficient behavior.
In addition, an energy dispatch optimization service will monitor users’ energy consumption, while a non-intrusive load monitoring service will provide feedback to users on the way they use their energy. Finally, an always-on real-time monitoring service analyzes events that pertain to energy conservation, security, and health-related issues.
The culmination of this project represents a big step in changing occupant behavior to boost energy efficiency in buildings. It underlines the fact that while we may be creatures of habit, we are also creatures that demand our free will, so much so that we will resist technology that tries to preempt our actions. However, by feeding occupants with the information they need to drive cost-saving and environmental responsibility in their own way, we can unlock a new layer of energy efficiency.
The human brain represents a vast and largely untapped edge-computing resource, and energy efficiency may just be the first problem we can solve with this approach.