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UMass awards engineer grant for energy efficiency research grant

Courtesy of umass.edu

Electrical and computer engineer David Irwin has received a five-year grant totaling at $461,434 to fund research on energy efficiency in houses and buildings, according to a university press release.

The grant was awarded to Irwin from the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development program, known as CAREER. According to the program’s website, CAREER awards grants specifically to faculty who exemplify their roles as “teacher-scholars,” through “outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

According to the press release, Irwin – a University of Massachusetts assistant professor – plans to create a “Wikipedia-style” website to collect data on energy use of a number of branded appliances. Visitors to the site will be able to add data on their own appliances or use the data on appliances as they see fit.  Irwin believes a greater understanding of how and why electrical consumption in devices is necessary for improvements in energy efficiency.

Irwin plans to use his research to develop software that will identify wasted electricity. He will then use this technology to program electrical devices in a building to turn energy on and off as needed. According to the release, Irwin stated that the system would be inexpensive, private, reliable, and sustainable.

“Using these methods, consumers could save an estimated 15 to 20 percent on their home’s electricity bill, while also reducing their carbon footprint,” said Irwin. Irwin’s goal is to make homes as energy efficient as possible, by creating a home that can monitor and control its own efficiency levels.

According to the press release, Irwin  faces the challenge of limited technology. While the current technology that monitors electrical devices can be utilized to aid building efficiency, in its current state it is expensive, invasive, and unreliable, according to Irwin.

In developing his software, Irwin is focusing on the automatic and scheduled control of appliances, which are switches and circuits in buildings that turn appliances off and on as needed. However, Irwin is also intent on preserving the privacy of those in the building.

Experimental sites for Irwin’s research are to be placed on and off campus according to the press release. Each site will be able to utilize a number of appliances, and will allow Irwin to run his experiments in a controlled environment.

Irwin will also be working at the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department, according to the press release, making use of their deployment of smart meters into the homes of customers. A smart meter, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Company website is a meter that records the amount of electrical energy consumed by a home or business, allowing the proprietor to bear witness to the extent of their energy use. The purpose of Irwin’s involvement with the department, he states, is to “figure out ways of using the vast amount of smart meter data utilities are collecting.”

Irwin hopes his research and software development will not only reduce homeowners’ electrical bills, but also to become useful in building control systems, according to the release. Irwin claims that the current building energy control systems “don’t manage the electrical usage to this degree of sophistication.”

Mitch Scuzzarella can be reached at mscuzzar@student.umass.edu

 

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