Innovative Plug Load Technology: A Key to Demand Response Cost Reduction Solutions for Commercial Buildings

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4Q 2023 | IN-7126

The University of California (UC) San Diego has been awarded a Department of Energy (DOE) grant through the Building Energy Efficiency Frontiers & Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) program to develop Optimized Commercial Control Technology of Plug-Loads and Lighting (OCCTOPI), an open-source plug load and lighting control technology for commercial buildings. OCCTOPI optimizes energy use through demand response, occupancy sensing, and time-of-use pricing, potentially saving up to 25% on energy costs. This technology offers opportunities for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to integrate it into their products and for property managers to reduce energy consumption and costs, and enhance sustainability in their buildings.

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UC San Diego Receives DOE Grant to Develop Open-Source Plug Load Technology


On August 7, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced US$46 million in funding for 29 projects across 15 states to develop advanced technologies and retrofit practices for buildings. One of the projects awarded funding is the Optimized Commercial Control Technology of Plug-Loads and Lighting (OCCTOPI) project at the University of California (UC) San Diego.

OCCTOPI is an open-source software platform for affordably integrating plug load and lighting controls in commercial buildings. Plug loads are electrical devices that are plugged into outlets, such as computers, printers, and coffee makers. Lighting loads account for a significant portion of energy consumption in commercial buildings.

The OCCTOPI system offers Building Managers (BMs) a user-friendly interface to execute Demand Response (DR) commands efficiently. This system presents two primary methods for load control. First, in the "Direct Actuation" approach, BMs can send commands to Smart Energy Meters (SEMs) to manage power consumption. UC San Diego is developing a new type of SEM that can be used to actuate connected devices, such as plug loads and lighting fixtures. The SEM can also be used to monitor energy consumption and provide data to the OCCTOPI software platform.

Devices can be turned off by specific device type or according to priority levels, allowing for flexibility in reducing energy usage. Moreover, the system can introduce a staggered reactivation of devices within a priority level, enhancing overall energy conservation. It also allows individual actuation of specific devices, providing fine-grained control over energy consumption. The system further allows the combination of priority levels and device types for tailored load management.

Additionally, the OCCTOPI system embraces using occupancy information by incorporating data from occupancy sensors. These sensors, which use Passive Infrared (PIR) technology and reed switches, detect room occupancy. This information is used to make load shedding decisions. For instance, devices with specific priority levels located in unoccupied rooms can be automatically turned off. Real-time occupancy data ensures that devices are re-enabled when rooms become occupied, effectively implementing an occupancy-based approach to energy management. This method optimizes energy usage by ensuring that unoccupied spaces continue to have their devices shut down, while devices in occupied areas are promptly restored, making it a smart and efficient approach to DR.

UC San Diego estimates that OCCTOPI can help commercial buildings save up to 25% on their energy costs.

UC San Diego is working to make its SEM Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Certified, which will allow it to be used in commercial buildings. The university is also working to develop signature detection algorithms to automatically classify device types, which will help simplify the deployment process. The DOE funding will help UC San Diego further develop and commercialize its plug load technology. The university is working with consultants to bring OCCTOPI and its SEM to market.

Potential Benefits of UC San Diego's Plug Load Technology


UC San Diego's innovative plug load technology offers significant potential benefits for the commercial buildings market. By enabling intelligent throttling of plug loads, the technology provides a powerful tool for reducing energy costs, carbon emissions, and peak power demand.

The ability to monitor and modulate power consumption from outlets and devices not normally considered part of a building's core systems is crucial. Plug loads from equipment like computers, monitors, and printers represent a large and growing portion of electricity use in offices and other commercial spaces. Throttling these loads during periods of peak demand can yield major cost savings, as electricity prices spike dramatically at these times. Avoiding consumption peaks also takes pressure off the grid, improving reliability.

UC San Diego's technology can monitor and manage plug loads in real time. The OCCTOPI system can reduce plug load energy use by up to 25% through automated optimization routines. As utilities implement DR programs with dynamic pricing, the ability to shed non-critical plug loads quickly will become increasingly valuable. Intelligent plug load management maximizes participation in these programs, while minimizing occupant disruption.

Furthermore, integrating occupancy detection and load shedding capabilities allows plugs and lighting to be tuned precisely to space usage. This improves both occupant comfort and incremental energy savings by avoiding unnecessary consumption. As businesses and building operators pursue sustainability goals and enhanced efficiency, UC San Diego's innovative plug load technology offers a major competitive edge.

Recommendations for OEMs and Commercial Property Managers


UC San Diego's open-source plug load technology presents a major opportunity for technology OEMs in the commercial smart building space. By integrating OCCTOPI and the SEM into their existing product offerings, OEMs can differentiate themselves from the competition and provide their customers with a powerful tool for reducing energy consumption and costs.

These are some specific recommendations for technology OEMs:

  • Consider partnership opportunities with UC San Diego to commercialize the OCCTOPI software platform and SEM. OEMs can work with UC San Diego to develop and market certified versions of OCCTOPI and the SEM for commercial buildings. This would allow OEMs to offer their customers a complete solution for plug load management.
  • Develop new hardware products that are compatible with OCCTOPI. OEMs can develop new smart plugs, lighting fixtures, and other devices that are specifically designed to work with OCCTOPI. This would make it easier for customers to deploy and use the technology.
  • Provide Software Development Kits (SDKs) that allow other companies to integrate their products with OCCTOPI. This would encourage the development of a broad ecosystem of products and services that support OCCTOPI.

Property managers can use UC San Diego's plug load technology to significantly reduce energy consumption in their buildings. By deploying OCCTOPI and the SEM, property managers can automate plug load and lighting management to reduce peak energy demand, shift energy use to off-peak hours, and turn off devices when they are not in use.

These are some specific recommendations for property managers:

  • Assess the plug load and lighting energy consumption in your building. This will help you identify the areas where the technology can have the biggest impact.
  • Develop a plan for deploying plug load technology. This plan should include identifying the specific hardware and software that you need, as well as developing a timeline for deployment.
  • Work with a qualified contractor to install and configure a plug load management system.
  • Monitor and analyze the energy savings data from plug load management technology. This information can help you optimize the system and ensure that you are getting the most out of your investment.

Overall, UC San Diego's plug load technology offers significant benefits for both technology OEMs and property managers. By integrating the technology into their products and buildings, OEMs and property managers can help reduce energy consumption, save money, and improve sustainability.


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