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Smart Minds = Smart Buildings!

Research and operations combine to save energy in the Schulz building through innovative building management control.

Schulz building

Schulz building

In 2015, Dr Lei Chen, Senior Lecturer in Mechatronics in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing, Mathematical Sciences, received $20k from the Ecoversity Green Project Fund, to test an innovative approach to building management on the Schulz building, the tallest multi-use building on the North Terrace campus.

Working closely with Bruce Lawson (Mechanical Services Manager) and staff from the School of Mechanical Engineering, along with PhD and Masters students, Dr Chen developed a software model that integrates with the existing BMS to predict thermal interactions in a building. This ‘Artificial Neural Network’ approach works in a similar way to the human brain, using a network of interconnected elements that learn the relationship between the input parameters to control building temperature.

Efficiency improvements led to a 11% reduction in energy consumption from the 2015 baseline, displacing 44 tonnes CO2e per year and saving the University more than $20,000 annually in electricity costs. The largest benefits can be seen in the summer months, where energy reductions of up to 23% have been measured.

These reductions are in addition to significant energy savings that were realised following the Schulz BMS upgrade in 2014. The Schulz was once highly inefficient with vastly differing thermal comfort throughout floors and multiple weekly complaints from occupants. Following replacement of building plant, comfort increased significantly, and energy use in the Schulz decreased by around 60% (from a 2011 baseline) which equates to 244 tonnes of C02 and a cost saving in excess of $60k for the period.

Dr Lei Chen
Bruce Lawson in the Schulz basement

Dr Chen’s project has ongoing benefits for research and operations, and provides a valuable real-world experience for Mechanical Engineering students. The technology will be next applied to a number of other buildings on the North Terrace campus, along with the University’s new $246m Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences building in the West End. The project is the campus living laboratory concept in action and demonstrates the value of allowing staff and students to use campus buildings for teaching and research.

This project has been shortlisted for an ACTS Green Gown Award in the Facilities & Services category.

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