A Data-driven Approach for Coordinating Air Conditioning Units in Buildings during Demand Response Events

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Virginia Tech


Among many smart grid technologies, demand response (DR) is gaining increasing popularity. Many utility companies provide a variety of programs to encourage DR participation. Under these circumstances, various building energy management (BEM) systems have emerged to facilitate the building control during a DR event. Nonetheless, due to the cost and return on investment, these solutions mainly target homes and large commercial buildings, leaving aside small- and medium-sized commercial buildings (SMCB). SMCB, however, accounts for 90% of commercial buildings in the US, and offer great potential of load reduction during peak hours.

With the advent of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and technologies, low cost smart building solutions have become possible for the SMCB; nonetheless, related intelligent algorithms are not widely available. This dissertation work investigates automated building control algorithms, tailored for the SMCB, to realize automatic device control during DR events. To be specific, a control framework for Air-Conditioning (AC) units' coordination is proposed. The goal of such framework is to reduce the aggregated AC power consumption while maintaining the thermal comfort inside a building during DR events.

To achieve this goal, three major components of the framework were studied: building thermal property modeling, AC power consumption modeling and control algorithms design. Firstly, to consider occupants' thermal comfort, a reverse thermal model was designed to predict the indoor temperature of thermal zones under different AC control signals. The model was trained with supervised learning using coarse-grained temperature data recorded by smart thermostats; thus, it requires no lengthy configuration as a forward model does. The cost efficiency and plug-and-play feature of the model make it appropriate for SMCB. Secondly, a power disaggregation algorithm is proposed to model the power-outdoor temperature relationship of multiple AC units, using data from a single power meter and thermostats. Finally, algorithms based on mixed integer linear programming (MILP) and reinforcement learning (RL) were devised to coordinate multiple AC units in a building during a DR event. Integrated with the thermal model and AC power consumption model, these algorithms minimize occupants' thermal discomfort while restricting the aggregated AC power consumption below the DR limit. The efficiency of these control algorithms was tested, which demonstrate that they can generate AC control schedule in short notice (5 minutes) ahead of a DR event. Verification and validation of the proposed framework was conducted in both simulation and actual building environments. In addition, though the framework is designed for SMCBs, it can also be applied to large homes with multiple AC units to coordinate.

This work is expected to give an insight into the BEM sector, helping the popularization of implementing DR in buildings. The research findings from this dissertation work shows the validity of the proposed algorithms, which can be used in BEM systems and cloud-based smart thermostats to exploit the untapped DR resource in SMCB.



smart grid, demand response, HVAC coordination, building thermal model, reinforcement learning