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DOE's BENEFIT Initiative Seeks Low-Cost Building Sensors

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding three multi-year projects to create either passive or active RFID sensors that can collect temperature, humidity or other environmental data for use by building-management systems.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 31, 2016

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched three RFID-based sensor projects as part of a $19 million investigation into identifying ways in which technology can make energy efficiency more accessible in homes, offices, schools, restaurants and stores. The Buildings Energy Efficiency Frontiers and Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) initiative is funding a total of 18 projects, encompassing sensors and controls, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and related technologies, windows, building envelopes (the physical elements, such as doors and walls, separating a building's interior from its exterior) and energy modeling. The RFID projects fall within the sensors and controls category.

Heading one of the three RFID projects is Clemson University's development of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags with built-in sensors. Another of the projects, being run by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), focuses on research into peel-and-stick sensors made with active 433 MHz RFID tags powered by photovoltaic technology. The third project, involving the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), also consists of peel-and-stick sensors, using passive UHF RFID tags that can transmit temperature, humidity or other sensor data to a server when interrogated. PARC is also assisting ORNL with its project.

DOE's Marina Sofos
The DOE launched the BENEFIT initiative to identify low-cost technology solutions to improve buildings' energy-consumption rates. Each project is intended to yield systems that could reduce utility costs, decrease a building's carbon footprint and create jobs.

Most development work will begin this fall and is expected to conclude within two years, says Marina Sofos, the technology manager of the DOE's building technology office. "Each project is slated for two to three years," she says. Although wireless solutions for monitoring temperatures and other conditions within buildings are already available, Sofos notes, few are currently in use. Part of the challenge, she says, is in the cost of the sensors that could be used to monitor and thereby reduce the amount of waste associated with lighting, HVAC and other energy consumption. "The goal for the wireless sensors projects," she states, "is to drive down the cost of sensors."

By reducing the cost of installing, maintaining and operating sensors, the DOE hopes to accelerate the rate at which sensors are deployed in government, commercial and residential structures.

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