Development of a Software Platform with Distributed Learning Algorithms for Building Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Applications

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Virginia Tech

In the United States, over 40% of the country's total energy consumption is in buildings, most of which are either small-sized (<5,000 sqft) or medium-sized (5,000-50,000 sqft). These buildings offer excellent opportunities for energy saving and demand response (DR), but these opportunities are rarely utilized due to lack of effective building energy management systems and automated algorithms that can assist a building to participate in a DR program. Considering the low load factor in US and many other countries, DR can serve as an effective tool to reduce peak demand through demand-side load curtailment. A convenient option for the customer to benefit from a DR program is to use automated DR algorithms within a software that can learn user comfort preferences for the building loads and make automated load curtailment decisions without affecting customer comfort. The objective of this dissertation is to provide such a solution.

First, this dissertation contributes to the development of key features of a building energy management open source software platform that enable ease-of-use through plug and play and interoperability of devices in a building, cost-effectiveness through deployment in a low-cost computer, and DR through communication infrastructure between building and utility and among multiple buildings, while ensuring security of the platform.

Second, a set of reinforcement learning (RL) based algorithms is proposed for the three main types of loads in a building: heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) loads, lighting loads and plug loads. In absence of a DR program, these distributed agent-based learning algorithms are designed to learn the user comfort ranges through explorative interaction with the environment and accumulating user feedback, and then operate through policies that favor maximum user benefit in terms of saving energy while ensuring comfort.

Third, two sets of DR algorithms are proposed for an incentive-based DR program in a building. A user-defined priority based DR algorithm with smart thermostat control and utilization of distributed energy resources (DER) is proposed for residential buildings. For commercial buildings, a learning-based algorithm is proposed that utilizes the learning from the RL algorithms to use a pre-cooling/pre-heating based load reduction method for HVAC loads and a mixed integer linear programming (MILP) based optimization method for other loads to dynamically maintain total building demand below a demand limit set by the utility during a DR event, while minimizing total user discomfort. A user defined priority based DR algorithm is also proposed for multiple buildings in a community so that they can participate in realizing combined DR objectives.

The software solution proposed in this dissertation is expected to encourage increased participation of smaller and medium-sized buildings in demand response and energy saving activities. This will help in alleviating power system stress conditions by employing the untapped DR potential in such buildings.

Building Energy Management System, Energy Efficiency, Demand Response, Internet of Things, Reinforcement Learning