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Can Smartphones Drive Citywide Energy Efficiency?


By Dan Hounsell Energy Efficiency
Digital hologram of smart city on the screen of smartphone with Internet of things

Is there anything smartphones can’t do? Probably. But as maintenance and engineering departments continue to discover, the devices are having a tremendous influence in several areas of institutional and commercial facilities. Maybe the largest impact of smartphones for maintenance and engineering has been on the productivity of front-line technicians. Armed with smartphones, technicians in the field can immediately access work orders, as-built drawings and equipment repair histories. No more paper documents and time-wasting trips back to the office to access essential information. Perhaps the next major impact of smartphones on facilities will involve improving energy efficiency and curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

To achieve energy-efficient buildings at a citywide scale, accurate occupancy estimates are crucial. These estimates need to take into account the fact that people move around their cities throughout the day, from home to work, which drives energy use for different building types.

Researchers from Berkeley Engineering, Berkeley Lab and MIT have developed a model that can do just that, according to Berkeley Engineering. The tool uses passively collected cellphone data to improve urban-scale building occupancy and mobility estimates.

“Understanding building occupancy at an urban scale allows us to plan better for collective energy use,” says Marta Gonzalez, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley and co-author of the paper. “Like traffic apps that tell you the current state of road congestion, we envision a model that could potentially tell users what the energy demands are in different places and therefore identify bespoke efficiency measures. The tool could also potentially connect to smart-devices that automatically adjust to the energy demand.”

Dan Hounsell is editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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