Innovative Control for Thermal Comfort Systems in Smaller Buildings

PI's: Thomas Gentry and Robert Cox, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Executive Abstract

The dawning of the Smart Grid provides the opportunity to investigate new strategies for controlling thermal comfort while also improving demand-side power management. In the piedmont region of North Carolina, for instance, it is possible to offset almost 50% of the cooling load in small buildings through the use of fan-assisted natural ventilation. In general, however, such approaches are not used because they do not reliably control comfort and indoor air quality under all ambient conditions. As internet-enabled smart meters begin to be introduced into homes and small businesses, however, there is the possibility of integrating the necessary controls at relatively limited cost. The research team proposes to investigate several advanced control schemes for smaller buildings. These approaches make use of a small sensor network and a smart meter. The objectives of this project are as follows:

Objective 1: Develop a model-based control scheme for HVAC systems in homes and small commercial buildings. This model-based scheme would learn the appropriate control for the building given the occupants’ desired comfort levels and enable the use of variable-speed systems.
Objective 2: Demonstrate a climate-appropriate fan-assisted natural ventilation scheme for smaller buildings. This scheme would also be based on the use of the smart meter and a small sensor network.