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Sensor Research Targets Smart Building Technology Using Radio-Frequency Identification

November 2017

One of 15 new projects announced in November, University of Colorado Professor and NREL Scientist Gregor Henze is leading a research effort as part of DOE’s ARPA-E Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) Program. SENSOR intends to develop a new class of sensor systems that can significantly increase energy savings by reducing demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.

In addition to Dr. Henze, NREL Senior Engineer Anthony Florita will be working with professors Joshua Smith at the University of Washington and Soumik Sarkar at Iowa State University. The project relies on a battery-free radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensor network with spatiotemporal pattern network based data fusion system for human presence sensing, with ARPA-E awarding the team $2 million over the next three years. The peel-and-stick sensors will use privacy-preserving microphones and low-resolution cameras to detect human presence while differentiating pets. The sensor system will be powered wirelessly, so it can be installed cost effectively and without invasive rewiring.

Accurately detecting occupancy is crucial to optimizing operations to reduce energy use without risking poor indoor air quality or occupant comfort, productivity, or potentially health through unwelcome changes in temperature.

"Commercial and residential buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of U.S. energy consumption and 75% of our electricity use," said Chuck Kutscher, director of the NREL Buildings and Thermal Sciences Center. "This project will provide a means to sense occupancy patterns throughout buildings and thus allow the heating and cooling systems to be controlled in a way that reduces energy consumption while preserving occupant comfort. We’re very excited to participate in this important research effort."