The Sensor Suitcase is a portable case that contains easy-to-use sensors and other equipment that make it possible for anyone to identify energy-saving opportunities in small commercial buildings. The automated and reusable system combines hardware and software in one package so its users can identify cost-effective measures that can save small commercial buildings about 10 percent on their energy bills. It helps someone with minimal training collect and automatically process building data, which the system uses to generate specific recommendations to improve energy efficiency.

The Sensor Suitcase packs the knowledge of a seasoned energy efficiency professional into a high-tech suitcase, which contains easy-to-use sensors and other equipment that make it possible for nearly anyone to identify energy-saving opportunities in small commercial buildings. PNNL research associate Eric Gonzalez is shown here placing a sensor from the Sensor Suitcase near lights in an office building. Credit: Andrea Starr/PNNL

According to the developers, the innovation is in the streamlining. Instead of hiring a professional engineer to conduct a full energy evaluation, it's designed to enable just about anyone to conduct what energy-efficiency professionals call “retro-commissioning.” Large commercial buildings often have the resources needed to do it themselves, while smaller buildings with 50,000 square feet or less don't. PNNL and Berkeley Lab developed the Sensor Suitcase to overcome that hurdle.

Inside the suitcase sit 16 pocket-sized sensors that can measure three things: temperature, whether lights are on or off, and how a heating and cooling system is operating. Users follow clear instructions from the Sensor Suitcase's operations software, which runs on a separate tablet, to install the sensors inside a building. About a month later, they are gathered and returned to the suitcase. Users then connect the suitcase to a personal computer so they can transfer the collected energy data. The system's analytical software is then used to automatically crunch the sensor data.

The final result is a report that identifies problems such as excessive lighting; recommends low- and no-cost ways to fix problems such as installing occupancy sensors that turn lights on only when a room is being used; and provides estimated cost savings for addressing each problem.

According to the developers, The Sensor Suitcase system focuses on eight of the most common and cost-effective areas to improve energy efficiency in small commercial buildings. As a result, it can help building owners save about two-thirds of the energy that could have been saved with the traditional approach to retro-commissioning, which requires the hands-on labor of several energy-efficiency professionals, who are often engineers. Conducting a traditional retro-commissioning assessment takes six months or longer, while doing the same assessment with a Sensor Suitcase takes four to six weeks and costs about a third of traditional retro-commissioning services.

Small building owners can buy and use the Sensor Suitcase themselves or hire an outside company to provide the services. Additionally, utilities could lend the technology to commercial building-owning customers or otherwise encourage its use. Though the Sensor Suitcase is intended for small commercial buildings, it could also be used to supplement energy retrofits at large commercial buildings as well.

For more information, contact Julie Chao at 510-486-6491.

Sensor Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2017 issue of Sensor Technology Magazine.

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