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Regular checkups reduce energy use

A prototype of software developed by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is providing buildings across the United States with the equivalent of their own full-time doctor.

Much like physicians who perform routine physicals to determine a patient's health, the Whole Building Diagnostician monitors a building's heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems and uncovers problems that could be leading to wasted energy and occupant discomfort.

The Whole Building Diagnostician's module that monitors the performance of air-handling units and detects problems with outside-air control has been installed in a total of 35 air-handling units in 10 buildings for field-testing. Test sites include the air traffic control facilities at the Denver International Airport, a high-rise office complex in San Diego, California's Alameda County Courthouse and a building on the University of Maryland's campus.

"We've found problems in virtually all the air-handlers so far," said Rob Pratt, a staff scientist in the energy and engineering technical resource group. "About a quarter of the time we're finding major problems where systems are using 50 percent more energy than they should."

The software turns data from building automation systems and digital control systems into valuable information about the root cause of problems in system design and installation, operator error and equipment failure.

A separate component of the Whole Building Diagnostician tracks overall building energy use. It is analyzing data from 21 buildings near the Laboratory on the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site and is being tested at the District Energy St. Paul's headquarters in Minnesota, where it is analyzing data from 90 buildings.

The Laboratory plans to commercialize the Whole Building Diagnostician, expecting potential users to include building operators and maintenance staffs, electric utilities, energy service companies, building control and equipment companies and third-party suppliers of software.

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