Tag Archives: Pacific Northwest National Lab

Occupancy Counting Devices Poised to Seriously Disrupt the Building Integration Space

Recently, we spoke with senior researchers at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL), who are working on an “occupancy counting device” (OCD). Such a device would use low-resolution video imaging coupled with image processing to determine the number of people in a given room, with decent accuracy. Currently occupancy counts are approximated using CO2 sensors, which are imperfect in their latency as well as calibration – they tend to drift from their set-points after a couple of years. The other disadvantage is cost, as CO2 sensors cost $100 to $200 each, plus a hefty installation labor cost. PNNL is aiming to produce a commercial prototype of an occupancy counter by the end of 2013, which it hopes to market for $60. Researchers claim to already be in talks with an EU-based sensor company that could make the internals, and thought has been given to working with EnOcean to provide energy harvesting capability. As if this isn’t dramatic enough, PNNL wants to incorporate temperature sensing capability as well, meaning one of their devices could replace three devices: an occupancy sensor (for lights), a temperature sensor, and a CO2 sensor – all for the price of a simple occupancy sensor (used for lighting).

Earlier this year, we pointed out the increasing interest in occupancy (client registration required) rates, because of potential to leverage this data to reduce ventilation air supply to spaces – known as demand-control ventilation (DCV). Several sources claim ventilation savings as high as 40% in commercial offices when leveraging this strategy, and primary research indicates that the energy savings for a relatively high-performing new office building, the savings may be 1% to 4% of total annual energy savings. In addition to DCV, the smart players are looking to building systems integration, such as Digital Lumens (client registration required), who in Q2 2013 announced a plan to collaborate (client registration required) with other lighting suppliers and even HVAC sensor and equipment makers to leverage their sensing and control capability beyond just the lighting system. We believe a high cost of deploying building energy management (BEMS) in existing buildings, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid, is the high cost and invasiveness of sensors and controls installation. Should PNNL deliver their multi-function OCD, it would present a strong threat to controls incumbents, such as Johnson Controls and Honeywell.