BTRL ribbon

Overview

Building cooling in the Gulf region accounts for 60% of the total electricity consumed. This energy drain becomes even more severe during the summer months, when up to 70% of the peak demand can be attributed to our need to cool our indoor facilities. Given the fact that electricity in the region is still primarily produced by gas-fired power plants, such inefficient building technologies can be considered a significant contributor to carbon emissions and global climate change.

Notwithstanding the huge ecological impact of inefficient cooling, the national economic cost of this reality is also great. Low performing building envelopes, which refers to the physical separator between the interior and exterior of a building, and inefficient and outdated heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, contribute to higher operational costs for businesses and result in a higher portion of salaries going to utilities. Additionally, many governments in the region subsidize electricity, which redirects national wealth that could otherwise be spent in more productive areas.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – is one of many hot and humid regions that grapples with this reality. This means that building technology research aimed at improving the efficiency of building envelopes, climate management, cooling systems, and other related innovations, could bring benefit far beyond the Gulf region.

Masdar Institute, as the post-graduate research university that is central to the wider Masdar Initiative, is uniquely positioned to take a lead role in the area of building/city energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In recognition of this transformative potential, Masdar Institute has established the Building Technology Research Laboratory (BTRL) to orchestrate the UAE’s first multi-faceted and comprehensive study of energy technologies for buildings and cities.

The BTRL aims to become the leading demand-side energy research center in the GCC with a particular focus on:

  • Low-energy buildings
    Why? The basic characteristic of a high performance building is its inherent propensity to optimize/rationalize energy usage. Low energy, ultra-low energy and passive buildings represent different degrees of accomplishment in the continuous drive to reduce envelope thermal gain (hot climates) or loss (cold climate).

    How? Mandatory building energy codes are the most effective solution to conflicting/inaccurate price signals (landlord-tenant distortion, subsidized price of electricity). Research is needed to continuously assess and refine the existing codes and support their increasing reliance on numerical modeling. Other areas of research include efficient chillers, advanced glazing systems and day-lighting systems.
  • On-site energy storage/generation schemes to enable building’s full participation in demand response programs
    Why? In order for a building to be able to dynamically respond to supply constraints, high performance buildings must have the ability to shed load, or generate energy on-site, on short notice or according to a pre-defined schedule.

    How? Heating/cooling systems that take full advantage of building envelope’s thermal inertia are the most straightforward solution to this problem. But it is also possible to use thermal/electrical storage devices that are not part of the building structure, or replace grid power using on-site generation resources. Advanced predictive control/optimization algorithms are required to drive these systems.
  • Automated control/monitoring/diagnostic tool
    Why?  There is need for control/monitoring/diagnostic tools that would emulate a typical building operator and implement continuous commissioning of the building.

    How? The research needs to develop predictive and adaptive control and diagnosis algorithms. In addition, we must determine how to quickly deploy and commission/re-commission automation systems in high performance building. The issue of communication standards, interoperability and plug-and-play components constitute another area of interest. Emulation bench can be used to evaluate a real building automation component or possibly a complete building management system in a virtual test environment.
  • Decision support tools to predict the impact of DSM/DR programs
    Why? The traditional approach to DSM consists in improving the efficiency of the building envelope and the energy consuming equipment in order to induce energy conservation in a static and enduring manner. A more recent approach to DSM focuses on peak demand reduction and load profile optimization by leveraging advanced load management functionality enabled by the smart grid (information feedback, dynamic pricing, automatic control of smart end-use appliances & devices). In both cases, policy makers need tools to assess impact of different policy options before implementation.

    How? Through analysis of existing databases, we will derive demand price elasticity (electricity, chilled water). Further, black-box/aggregate or physical/bottom-up models of the demand will be built and identified against measured data. The calibrated model will be used to simulate different DSM/DR measures. The end result of the research will be the development of a set of decision support tools enabling policy makers to generate what-if scenarios and plan/optimize DSM/DR programs.
  • Engaging and incorporating the end-user
    Why? Although the ultimate goal of the smart grid is to interact with “smart buildings” in a more or less automated manner, the end-user will always be in the picture and must be properly accounted for in any DSM/DR program. Consumers need a compelling reason to be active participants in the grid.

    How? Research is needed to determine the effectiveness of providing consumers with a comparison of their energy consumption with the neighborhood average. Ultimately the understanding of the price elasticity of different categories of consumers at different times will be key to the implementation of a substantial and durable energy efficiency program. 

The Building Technology Research Laboratory (BTRL) at Masdar Institute is a truly multi-disciplinary research center, gathering close to 30 researchers, trying to address the foregoing. The BTRL’s current partners and sponsors include:

  • The Executive Affairs Authority – Abu Dhabi
  • Tabreed District Cooling Company
  • Siemens
  • Masdar City
  • Integrated Environmental Services
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Toshiba
  • Daikin
  • Targetti
  • Yazaki
  • Kawasaki