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Building Technologies

Developing New Algorithms to Improve Heating, Cooling Efficiency in Small Commercial Buildings

Company Name: NorthWrite, Inc.
Program Office: Building Technologies
Location: Portland, OR
Award Amount ($): $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Awaiting BTO SOW Approval
Participating Lab(s): Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


There are approximately 3.5 million small commercial buildings in the United States that are heated and cooled with packaged heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) units. These buildings encompass almost 41 billion square feet of floor space and use a significant amount of electricity to heat and cool these spaces. For many building owners and tenants, heating and cooling are among their most expensive operating costs and those costs are often unpredictable due to weather and fluctuating electricity prices. There is tremendous opportunity for both building owners and service providers to deploy cost-effective, energy efficiency technologies into this market segment.

The economics of this market segment requires applications to be highly automated, low-cost, and easy to deploy. The National Laboratories' research and development efforts over the last several years have led to great progress in the development and testing of technologies that are ideal for commercialization within the small commercial building sector, including innovations at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Only a few companies, including NorthWrite, work extensively with small building operators to improve the efficiency of their operations and have the resources for fundamental research, such as developing algorithms and methodologies for software applications and related systems. This project will provide resources for bridging the gap between innovation and commercialization for these applications.


The project provides an ideal vehicle to quickly commercialize innovative laboratory-developed technologies that have break-through advantages in simplicity and cost to implement for building owners and operators. In recent years, PNNL's analytic and diagnostic work for packaged HVAC systems has focused on developing approaches that minimize sensor and data collection costs, while still providing valuable information about the operating status of building systems. This project will support the commercialization of a variety of algorithms designed to detect efficiency degradation, issues with properly calibrating economizers, which can bring in outside air to cool buildings, and various operating problems associated with packaged HVAC equipment.



Small building operators are often underserved by energy management companies and developing these applications can bring energy-saving resources to other small businesses. When operators spend less on heating and cooling they can make investments in other building improvements and reduce costs for tenants. Further, better monitoring for HVAC systems can open up new options for providing service based on the condition of equipment as opposed to scheduled maintenance.


Energy efficiency is the most straight-forward way to reduce energy use and associated heat-trapping emissions. Further, HVAC units are often the biggest energy users in buildings.


Reducing energy demand through efficiency and smarter software applications can make it easier for utilities to manage grid operations, reducing the risk for brownouts and blackouts and making the grid more flexible and resilient.

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