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Slash office energy use with personal comfort systems

Posting in Technology

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In any office space, you’re find someone complaining about how hot the heater is in the winter, while another is layering on jackets because of the chill from the AC in the summer. What if workstation temperatures were tailored to each employee?

With a $1.6 million grant, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment came up with this solution, IEEE Spectrum reports:

A Personal Comfort System (PCS) that not only keeps individuals happy at their desks, but also provides feedback to the building’s facility managers so they can fine-tune the heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system.

The team estimates that the new tools can cut electricity use by up to 30 percent for HVAC and cut natural gas use by 39 percent in a typical California commercial office space -- or $62 million a year in energy costs in the state.

  • The PCS has foot warmers on the floor, finely directed fans, and low-wattage devices embedded into office chairs to warm or cool a worker on demand (pictured below).
  • The system focuses on the most thermally sensitive parts of the body -- such as the face, head, torso, and feet -- which is more efficient than maintaining one temperature for an entire building or floor.
  • On average, the PCS uses 2 watts for cooling and 40 watts for heating. (A conventional space heater uses 1500 watts.)
  • The entire system operates on a rechargeable lithium ferrophosphate battery and turns off when you leave your desk.

“It’s even better than having a thermostat at every workstation, if that were possible,” UC Berkeley’s Edward Arens said in a release.

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Smartphone apps, software, and sensors relay building temperatures, weather forecasts, and thermal satisfaction responses to people making decisions about energy use in the building. The goal: integrate occupant information with cutting-edge energy controls and computer sciences to cut energy use.

The team will put together about a hundred prototypes of the special heating-cooling chairs for pilot studies. They’re working with architectural and engineering firms, along with local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric.

[UC Berkeley News Center via IEEE Spectrum]

Images: Center for the Built Environment

— By on September 6, 2013, 10:30 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure