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UTSA researchers work to create smart buildings that can actively talk to smart grids

October 13, 2016

Bing Dong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a $173,420 grant from the National Science Foundation to support his top-tier research in the development of smart cities. The grant is part of a White House initiative established last year to encourage the development of smart city technology.

"What we're doing, essentially, is figuring out how to optimize the energy consumption of an entire community: from the buildings to the power grid," Dong said.

The Obama administration's initiative calls for technology collaborations that can help American communities reduce traffic congestion, fight crime, foster economic growth, deliver city services and adapt to a changing climate. Dong's research will focus on developing a program that will allow buildings in smart cities to minimize energy usage.

Dong is collaborating with fellow UTSA faculty members Ahmad Taha and Nikolaos Gatsis, both assistant professors of electrical and computer engineering, as well as faculty at the University of California, Riverside and utility company Southern California Edison. Dong's team will test the new technology on more than 1000 buildings in Orange County, California.

The idea is to come up with a method that allows smart cities to collaborate in energy consumption by monitoring the behavior of people living inside the buildings and better understanding what drives energy consumption.

Dong plans to accomplish this through technologically advanced buildings electronically communicating with each other to make sure that energy consumption is balanced. That way, one building isn't overusing and another isn't underusing, which leads to energy savings. It would also lead to more stable grid performance, which would eliminate black outs and spikes in energy prices during the winter and summer. Because power usage often surges during the hottest or coldest months, the power grid is frequently stressed from too much sudden demand.

"When something is stressed, it breaks," Taha said. "We want to keep our buildings and our grids stress-free."

Dong's algorithm will enable buildings to communicate with each other, to keep the power grid stable and unstrained. However, it's not just about efficiency and a lower energy bill.

"Smart cities are enabling people to communicate what's happening in their energy consumption," Dong said. "We're trying to empower them to be more aware in what they're consuming and demanding. That's the future."

University of Texas at San Antonio

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