BPL: Monitoring HVAC System Energy Use to Trigger Re-Commissioning/Re-Tuning


Develop analytical methods and techniques to monitor and use the energy performance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to reliably trigger the use of the Building Re-Tuning Protocol (and similar tools).


Energy consumption is a key driver of sustainability, as the current fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure greatly affects the environment. Of the energy consumed in the US, 41% is for commercial and residential buildings—of which HVAC systems typically consume a third or more.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a Building Re-Tuning (BRT) protocol that aims to optimize the performance of HVAC systems. An advantage of BRT is that unlike the typical commissioning approach that requires the engagement of a third-party service provider, BRT is intended to be applied directly by the building operator, on an ongoing basis. Given the myriad responsibilities of building operators, BRT would best be applied only “as needed.”  One difficulty, however, is in determining when the BRT is in fact needed, i.e., when HVAC systems are operating sub-optimally.

It would be very useful to have a trigger that would indicate to a building operator, based on energy monitoring of HVAC systems, when the BRT protocol should be applied. But would such a trigger be sufficiently accurate and practical? This is a key concern for this capstone project.

Suggested Approaches

  1. Identify the techniques / protocols that have the greatest effect on energy consumption: There are dozens of measures that help to optimize HVAC system performance. Analyze the protocols so that more attention is paid where the benefit is the greatest.
  2. Select common solutions: There exist many millions of buildings, and thus many, many technological solutions for HVAC. Coupled with approach (i), identify the solutions that are most prevalent, so as to direct the project to areas of maximum impact.
  3. Perform parametric analyses and empirical measurements: Energy consumption of a building’s HVAC systems depends on the weather, the performance of the building envelope, the occupancy of the building, how the building is used, degradation of energy performance with age of the HVAC equipment, etc. A parametric analysis of these dependencies, together with empirical approaches to measuring energy efficiency sensitivity, would help to develop techniques to set the tolerance for BRT triggers.
  4. Develop techniques for setting an energy baseline, monitoring performance, and communicating with the operator: To set an alert threshold, first one must establish a technique for setting an energy baseline. While it is easy to identify a building’s energy-consuming equipment, it is not as easy to parse out the energy consumption to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. With a baseline established, excursions can be identified. The final step is to create effective techniques for communicating with the building operator, who plays a crucial role since the efficacy of the approach relies on operator execution.