The heating and cooling of buildings forms a large part of global energy demand and is a significant, and increasing, contributor to carbon emissions.
In a bid to help curb these growing demands, a group of scientists and engineers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and UC Berkeley has pioneered a framework for determining the minimum thermal energy required while maintaining comfortable living conditions.
In their study, published in the journal Joule, the researchers calculate the theoretical minimum thermal load in order to dramatically lower the energy required for heating and cooling buildings.
Calculating a baseline for occupant comfort
For their calculations, the team set up a baseline for occupant comfort with different building parameters — the theoretical minimum thermal load does not focus purely on calculating the amount of heating or cooling needed to make a living space comfortable.
By setting up their baseline, the researchers identify the physical limit for reduced thermal use. In other words, they calculated the exact point at which thermal energy reduction would cause discomfort to occupants.
"Our work shows that current thermal loads in buildings are more than an order-of-magnitude higher than the theoretical minimum thermal load," Ravi Prasher, Berkeley Lab’s Associate Lab Director for Energy Technologies and the corresponding author of the paper, explained in a press release.
"In fact, the theoretical minimum thermal load showed that in residential buildings the energy used for heating or cooling an entire building for occupant comfort could be between 19 to 40 times lower," he continued.
The work points towards much more efficient energy usage in the future to help curb greenhouse emissions worldwide. While more environmentally friendly heating and cooling alternatives are in the works by scientific teams worldwide, the Berkeley Lab study shows that even these will have to be utilized in the most efficient manner possible so as not to waste energy.