Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute has been awarded nearly $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue research and development of its Building Energy Management Open Source Software for commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or less in size.

These buildings, which fall outside the scope of most commercial building automation systems, account for more than 90 percent of commercial buildings in the United States and 50 percent of the energy consumed each year.  

“Buildings 100,000 square feet and larger can afford to install building energy management systems up front because the incremental cost is relatively small and the opportunity for energy savings is high,” explained Saifur Rahman, the Joseph R. Loring Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and director of the Advanced Research Institute, located at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington. “However, smaller buildings do not benefit because vendors don’t find the market big or profitable enough to make it affordable for them.”

The Virginia Tech open source alternative software platform – which will work from a tablet, smartphone, or computer – is a good alternative for small and medium-sized commercial buildings, Rahman said, “because it serves as a backbone for improving and interconnecting automation systems for major building components.”

The open-protocol system operates on plug and play, offering scalability and robustness, as well as local and remote monitoring. This allows it to work with load control devices from different manufacturers that operate on different communication technologies and protocols. As a result, the system can more effectively adjust temperature and lighting to account for changes in a building’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and lighting levels during the day.

More interconnection among these systems will improve occupant comfort and, at the same time, reduce the use of energy and the cost of owning and operating the building.

Another goal is to significantly reduce the cost of installing and maintaining the system, Rahman said.

Virginia Tech began developing the Building Energy Management Open Source Software in late 2013 as one of the three groups chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy for this work. At the end of 2014, Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute was down-selected by the department to be the sole entity to continue further research and development work in this area. This research is a follow up to a National Science Foundation grant that the Advanced Research Institute received in 2011 in the area of smart building management.



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