Indiana: EERE’s Wireless Sensors Can Save Companies Millions of Dollars

Project Overview
Positive Impact: A new suite of energy-monitoring sensors—dubbed the Suitcase—has the potential to save manufacturing facilities and other commercial buildings up to 30% in energy use, with an ROI in as little as one year.
Location: Evansville, Indiana
Partners: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Alcoa Incorporated
Clean Energy Sector: Energy-saving homes, buildings, and manufacturingPDF

All buildings require a specific amount of energy to run at 100%; yet, almost all buildings use more than that required amount. To fix this, businesses could install an energy management system, which will show them where they’re unnecessarily using energy. But, because of their high costs and complicated set-up, these systems have yet to see commercial adoption. EERE has found a solution that removes these market barriers—advanced, inexpensive wireless sensors. By drastically lowering the return on investment, these sensors can help businesses save (in some cases) millions of dollars per year. This new generation of sensors solves two core problems: (1) they can be set up in 30 minutes, making deployment quick and easy, and (2) they cost a fraction of what energy management systems on the market cost today. Retrofitting buildings with these advanced sensors could reduce building energy consumption by 20%–30%.

EERE’s sensors served as the fundamental underpinning for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) wireless sensors suitcase, which ORNL staff originally demonstrated at an Alcoa facility in Evansville, Indiana. Within 30 minutes, the sensor network was operational. On one side of the plant, at an electrical substation, ORNL was taking temperature and humidity measurements, and on the other side, Alcoa staff members were reading the measurements on a laptop. The ease of installment drastically reduced the cost of the suitcase. Installing conventional wired sensors on Alcoa’s liquor circuit heaters would have normally cost Alcoa $14 million. For the same process, ORNL’s wireless sensors suitcase costs $70,000, or 0.5% of the current commercial offerings. This eliminates one of the biggest market barriers for sensors—their tremendously high costs—and in doing so, significantly advances their push toward widespread commercial adoption.

The Building Technologies Office leads a vast network of research and industry partners to continually develop innovative, cost-effective energy saving solutions—better products, better new homes, better ways to improve older homes, and better buildings in which we work, shop, and lead our everyday lives.

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