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Students’ WiFi habits actually save UBC money: expert

Published on Monday, April 03, 2017

Sensible Building Science

Original Post from MetroNews

A UBC tech startup has found a way to translate students’ habit of always connecting to WiFi into energy savings for the university.

The software, created by Stefan Storey and his team at Sensible Building Solutions, counts the number of devices connected to the university’s WiFi network at any one time and sends that information to the building’s control systems. That system can then turn on the heating or cooling system in each room in real time according to how many people are inside.

This means buildings outfitted with this technology are now “smart” enough to automatically turn on temperature controls to improve air flow in a lecture hall when 500 students fill the seats for a class and turn off the fan when all the students leave an hour later.

A pilot project in UBC’s Irving K. Barber Library reduced the building’s energy consumption by 5 per cent. The technology, called Bridge, could save the university up to $100,000 every year in energy savings if it was installed into the busiest buildings, according to UBC.

“Part of it which I find very exciting is we’re not putting in new infrastructure … we’re leveraging what already exists to run our buildings more efficiently,” said Orion Henderson, director of energy planning and innovation.

“That’s the piece that’s really awesome.”

The technology works best when there are large spaces that see drastic changes in occupancy – a lecture hall, for instance, said Henderson.

The WiFi information is detailed enough to give UBC a map of where students are, down to a few metres but it does not collect any personal data – just the number of devices connected to the network.

But Bridge has the potential to communicate even more finite commands like indicating how crowded a room is – if a lecture hall is only 50 per cent full for instance, Bridge can tell fans to run at 50 per cent capacity. Future updates to the software could even control lighting intensity depending on where people in the room are, according to Storey.

That degree of control is not available in the version UBC installed in three buildings so far, but it is definitely possible for future projects, said Storey.

UBC currently has Bridge installed in Allard Hall, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Hugh Dempster Pavilion.

“For other installs we’re looking at proportional control,” Storey said. “We can get into deeper energy savings once we get that program installed.”

UBC plans to install Bridge in six more buildings in the coming months, Orion confirmed.

Storey says he is in talks with the City of Vancouver to install Bridge in several city-owned buildings.