New app aims to optimize energy efficient room temperatures for UT buildings

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Photo Credit: Bixie Mathieu | Daily Texan Staff

Walking into campus buildings can sometimes feel like walking into a cooler. This not only makes students uncomfortable, but can be costly for energy usage.

An app that will maximize student comfort and save energy on campus is being developed by José Ramón Vázquez-Canteli, engineering graduate student. Set to launch next semester, the app collects student feedback and uses that information to optimize an energy-efficient room temperature. He received funding from the Green Fund to develop his project.

“In the summer I’m always wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but when I get into the buildings it starts to feel cold and I’ll need a sweater …  I thought that other people might feel like that too,” Vázquez-Canteli said.

The app is part of a side project for his lab, the Intelligent Environments Lab, which is also the namesake of the app.

The energy savings for this app can be incredible, according to engineering assistant professor Zoltan Nagy. He said one degree of temperature change can save almost 10 percent of energy consumption.

“We are already very energy efficient … but we tend to keep the buildings colder than we should,” Nagy said.

Cold and dry air is perceived as cleaner, which is one reason that people tend to air on the colder end of things, Nagy added.

The app will provide a feedback loop between the students who are experiencing the temperature and the facilities services who will generate the settings for the buildings, Nagy said. The app will also go beyond temperature and take feedback on how stuffy a room is and if ventilation needs to be increased.

Aidan Henderson, textiles and apparel and advertising sophomore, is one of the many students who tends to feel cold in campus buildings, but is skeptical of how effective the app will be.

“I feel like they can’t cater to every student, so they have to set it at a normal level that everyone can deal with,” Henderson said.

The data will allow administrators to change temperatures according to the feedback from the maximum number of students, Vázquez-Canteli said.

“The goal is to get data, do analysis and provide the analysis to the facilities operations and maintenance division so they can maximize the comfort,” Vázquez-Canteli said.

To incentivize students to participate, students will receive points in exchange for feedback, which can be redeemed for an Amazon gift card.

Vázquez-Canteli said he is hoping to start collecting data by January and is initially targeting Patton Hall and the Belo Center for New Media.

Vázquez-Canteli said the app is still in the development stage but hopes that when the app launches, it can increase comfort and decrease the cost of energy.

“At UT … people typically complain that the buildings are too cold, and that is a waste of energy because you could save energy and make people more comfortable,” Vázquez-Canteli said.