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Smart Technology Project Funded by Energy Commission Helps Fan Energy Savings and Comfort

By Media Office Staff

Creating comfortable indoor conditions during summer days typically means turning on the air conditioning, which requires a lot of energy and contributes to climate change. But, air conditioning is not the only way to cool down. Ceiling fans can help too.

Modern ceiling fans have progressed significantly in recent years. They now use about as much power as an LED light bulb and have extremely quiet motors. And, some of the advanced smart fans can automatically start and adjust their speed based on the temperature in the space and the presence of occupants.

In 2016, the California Energy Commission funded a four-year $2 million demonstration project in California’s Central Valley to test the ability of ceiling fans to help cool spaces in multi-family buildings, while keeping occupants comfortable. The project was funded through the Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, which drives clean energy innovation and entrepreneurship.

A team from the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE), TRC Companies Inc., Big Ass Fans, and the Association for Energy Affordability installed 99 smart ceiling fans in offices, community rooms, and homes in low-income housing developments at four sites in the region. They also installed smart thermostats that automatically manage heating and cooling devices.

The fans operate as part of the larger air conditioning systems. At moderate temperatures, the fans operate alone, gradually speeding up as indoor temperatures rise. Should inside temperatures approach the upper 70s, air conditioning kicks in. At one site, air conditioning-related energy consumption was cut by 60 percent, and the monthly electric bill was reduced by $1,200.

According to the CBE, modern fans, using only one to eight watts of energy, can offset a 6 degrees Fahrenheit increase in indoor air temperature. Surveys taken during the demonstration showed that in many cases, occupants never noticed a difference in comfort levels from the fans to the air conditioning.

The demonstration project supports California’s goal to double building energy efficiency savings by 2030. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for almost 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Written by Paul Raftery from the Center for the Built Environment and California Energy Commission staff.

Photo courtesy of Paul Raftery of the Center for the Built Environment.

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