The Science of Thermal Energy: Measurement and Management
The science of measuring and managing thermal energy is critical, especially when you consider that it is constantly flowing throughout buildings – generated when the sun warms a building, by the equipment and lights inside, and day to day activities of occupants.
Harnessing thermal energy brings huge benefits: improving energy efficiency; reducing operating costs; increasing the lifecycle of mechanical systems, enhancing asset value, and even providing trading and revenue generation possibilities. Our blog series, The Science of Thermal Energy outlines answers to the most frequently asked questions from developers, engineers, architects and facility managers.
In this article we focus on how thermal energy can be measured, managed and mastered. If you would like to know more, feel free to get in touch.
Did you know?
- More than 76% of all U.S. electricity use and more than 40% of all U.S. energy use and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are used to provide comfortable, well-lit, residential and commercial buildings—and to provide space conditioning and lighting for industrial buildings.
- Doing the right thing and client demand are the top triggers for increased green building activity in Canada. Specifically, for contractors (34%) branding and PR is key, whereas for owners (59%) it’s about reducing operating costs.
- Opportunities for improved efficiency are enormous. By 2030, building energy use could be cut more than 20% using technologies known to be cost effective today and by more than 35% if research goals are met. Much higher savings are technically possible.
How is thermal energy measured?
There are several ways to measure thermal energy and, in the industry, it is anything but consistent. For example, in modern science the Joule is the SI unit of measurement, often used when referencing thermal energy related to natural gas. There’s also the kWh used in the context of thermal energy and electricity; the British Thermal
Unit (BTU) used when referencing heating plants and equipment; and even the ton-hr, used to reference thermal energy in the context of cooling equipment.
When looking at buildings, any mix of these units can be encountered. Now, let’s explore the best ways of managing thermal energy to minimize environmental impact and maximize efficiencies.
What are the best way to manage thermal energy in buildings?
The most common approaches are:
- Load reducing strategies – made possible with load control systems, advanced glazing, daylight capture solutions, lighting and air conditioning modulation, adaptive materials, smart shading systems, intelligent energy management, high efficiency Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC), hydronics, and refrigeration technologies;
- Load shifting strategies – facilitated by building energy management programs, thermal energy storage for precooling/heating and waste heat recovery systems. Buildings with distributed thermal storage technologies can also shift heating/cooling load from peak to off-peak periods;
- Local heat and electricity generation – supported by photo-voltaic panels, fuel cells, micro gas turbines, solar water heating, solar pool heating, passive or active solar space heating/cooling and geo-exchange heat pumps. The integration of on-site electricity generation using photo-voltaic modules is also increasingly more common.
How do we master thermal energy?
We often hear, “It’s one thing to measure and manage thermal energy, but can it really be mastered?” The answer is yes. Here are three steps we find add most value:
- Understanding heat transfer and temperature distribution through materials and assemblies in addition to market rates for energy. This allows for the prediction of energy use and informs the costs and implications of supply and demand initiatives;
- Designing or retrofitting key thermal energy infrastructure like HVAC, hydronics and refrigeration systems as connected cogs of a single thermal energy “wheel”. This helps maximize energy efficiencies, costs and the lifetime of systems;
- Leveraging thermal energy infrastructure as an asset within buildings. This improves the security of energy supply and provides the potential to generate green revenue by harvesting, storing and trading thermal energy output. This revenue makes the business case for investing in renewables a win for the environment and the bottom line.
With so many questions surrounding thermal energy – the how, what, why, benefits and payback – why not drop us a line? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Science of Thermal Energy: Heat Transfer
Technical insights courtesy of US Energy Information Administration: Use of Energy in the United States Explained, Bright Hub Education, BDC Network, Thermpopedia, CaGBC Canada Green Building Trends: Benefits Driving the New and Retrofit Market. US Department of Energy: Chapter 5: Increasing Efficiency of Building Systems and Technologies September 2015 and (A Al-Mosawi) University of Strathclide, US Energy Information Administration.