Researchers at the University of Adelaide have been exploring how the use of public weather forecast information can help deliver significant reductions in the energy consumption of commercial buildings by modelling and predicting temperature changes within structures.

Combining information from the Bureau of Meteorology with data from existing building management systems, the researchers have developed an intelligent model that remains one step ahead of the building’s temperature changes, automatically adjusting the heating and cooling supply accordingly.

Early experimental results have provided encouraging results, with at least 10 per cent energy savings shown to be possible.

All building environments are influenced by changes in the external environment, while in air-conditioned commercial buildings the heating, cooling and ventilation systems respond passively to temperature changes within the building itself.

“Our model can be used as a pre-emptive measure to keep ahead of those temperature changes, making adjustments in the heating and cooling supply to keep the building at a comfortable temperature without wasting energy in temperature overshoots,” says Hao Huang, PhD candidate in the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Dr Lei Chen, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mechanical Engineering and part of the University’s Centre for Energy Technology (CET), expects even more improvements in building energy performance.

“We’ve established how to predict temperature changes and make corresponding control decisions within a building,” he said. “Our next step is to integrate the algorithm that Hao has developed into existing commercially available air conditioning control system.”

Huang and Chen are working with Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL) to obtain further experimental data as part of a three-year clean energy partnership between AAL and CET.

South Australia’s Transport and Energy Minister Patrick Conlon has commended the partnership, which he said would have long-term benefits.

“The commitment from Adelaide Airport to invest in the University of Adelaide’s research will support innovation and provide both parties with strategic benefits,” he said. “We are firmly supportive of new initiatives that will lead to new technologies that improve the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in South Australia.”

Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL) managing director Phil Baker said AAL aimed to become the most ecologically sustainable airport in Australia.

“Running a successful airport involves a great deal of energy use, which in turn results in a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Simply putting money into paying for carbon offsets doesn’t solve the underlying issues,” he said.

Issues being investigated under the partnership include:

  • the use of renewable energy generation both on and off site – such as wind and solar energy;
  • novel methods to reduce energy from heating, cooling and lighting;
  • alternative approaches for ground transportation;
  • adapting new technologies to AAL’s unique facilities and requirements.

Chen said the potential for the intelligent model that the university is testing with the airport is enormous.

“If this system is adapted in buildings in cities around the world, the decreased energy use could make a large difference to the total production of greenhouse gases,” he said.