Unlocking Energy Efficiency and Flexibility in Buildings


3E is proud to welcome a new PhD in the company. On the 4th of June, Roel De Coninck became PhD in mechanical engineering at the Catholic University of Louvain (KULeuven) in Belgium. After having tested it as a pilot project on the 3E building situated in Brussels, Belgium, he developed a model predictive control aimed at improving energy efficiency and comfort of buildings.


Grey-Box Based Optimal Control for Thermal Systems in Buildings

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a key challenge for the mitigation of climate change. In particular, bad control and operation often causes large energy efficiency losses, both in new and old buildings.

In this work, a model predictive control (MPC) is developed to improve the energy efficiency and thermal comfort in buildings. MPC means that a model of the building is used to predict the future behaviour of the building based on predictions of the weather and user actions. Knowing how the building will react in the coming hours allows the MPC to anticipate and adapt the actual control.

MPC exists already for several decades but is not used much in buildings because it is difficult to configure and operate. Therefore, a tool chain is developed in this thesis to facilitate an easy implementation of MPC in buildings.

The tool chain can also be applied to use the flexibility of the building. By flexibility we understand the ability of the building to shift its electricity consumption. The flexibility can be used to align the consumption of the building with the availability of renewable electricity. This allows to reduce the consumption during periods with little sun or wind energy leading to less dependency on conventional power plants.

The tool chain can be used to compute the amount and the cost of the available flexibility in a building. It is shown that the costs for shifting thermal loads in buildings are not negligible. However, using the flexibility in buildings is often cheaper than other solutions to maintain the equilibrium between production and consumption on the electricity network.
To demonstrate the tool chain, an MPC is applied to the office building of 3E in Brussels. By better control of the installed heat pumps and gas boiler, a saving of 30% to 40% was obtained on the daily heating costs. This is a promising result for MPC in buildings and it encourages further work in this domain.

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