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Research Highlights

March 2015

Sensor Suitcase: Packed and Ready to Help Building Owners Improve Efficiency

The Challenge

In the United States, small commercial buildings—those with floor areas less than 50,000 square feet—account for 44 percent of commercial building energy consumption. Very few of them have been evaluated and updated, or retro-commissioned, to ensure they operate efficiently and continue to do so over their lives. Enter the Sensor Suitcase, coming soon to a store near you.

The Sensor Suitcase is a portable diagnostic toolkit with sensors that gather information about how a building operates. The result of a collaborative effort by PNNL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), it serves as a tool to simplify and streamline the retro-commissioning process by enabling non-experts to identify energy-saving operational changes, while keeping the costs of this service low. Total energy cost savings for retro-commissioning are estimated to be 15 percent.

Developed with funding from DOE's Building Technologies Office, a popular industry guide from E-Source included the technology in its list of Top 22 Technologies and Trends of 2014. The project team is now working with a commercial partner while aiming to make a prototype commercially available by 2017.

How it Works

The service provider enters a commercial building with the sensor suitcase and a tablet computer. The tablet, on which the suitcase software application is installed, wirelessly communicates with the suitcase to guide the service provider/user through sensor installation. Sensors are placed in designated locations, some on lighting fixtures, others near thermostats, and still others on rooftop HVAC systems. Once installation is complete, the user exits the building site, leaving the sensors in place for 4-6 weeks.

When the sensors are configured during the installation process, data that identifies the building, the location at which the sensor is installed (e.g., the room name or number), and the type of measurement being taken – such as temperature of air coming out of a register, or when lights are on or off – are stored on the sensor. Throughout the measurement period, the sensor collects sensed data

At the end of the measurement period, the user simply collects the sensors and places them back into slots in the suitcase, from where the data are transferred to a computer for analysis. The user-friendly software then provides an output of recommended actions for reducing energy use, including expected costs savings.

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