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Can Energy Efficiency Be Measured From 4,000 feet In The Air?

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In early 2017, a group set out to measure the behavioural response to personalized thermal imagery vs. traditional consumption comparisons. A municipally-owned utility in Alberta is leading the pilot in partnership with Natural Resources Canada, and a behavioural science academic team.

Correlation Between Aerial Thermal Data and Actual Consumption
While the pilot is currently in the final stages of evaluation, one of the early by-products was the connection made between the aerial thermal data and actual consumption. 

In order to test the relationship between the thermal data and consumption, the thermal data for each rooftop in the city was grouped and categorized. This was done using unsupervised machine learning applied to each rooftop thermal signature across the entire city of 20,000 homes. The results are HEAT Ratings, a comparative ranking of buildings in relation to others in their neighbourhood and city on a scale of 1 to 10. Category 1 represents the least amount of measured heat loss and category 10 represents the highest amount of measured heat loss.

The evaluation, led by Dr. Nic Rivers and Dr. Maya Papineau, began by exploring the relationship between thermal signatures and energy consumption data for single-family homes.  Data for this exercise came from three sources:

  • 3 years of natural gas and electrical energy consumption data
  • Aerial thermal data collected using a high-resolution sensor
  • Publicly available property tax assessment data.

When the thermal data and building size were considered, the results revealed that buildings consumed approximately 4% less energy for each incremental change in the HEAT Rating unit. 

However, many factors influence energy consumption. To address these influences, the academic partners continued with a regression-based analysis. Using property tax assessment data (such as building type, building age, neighbourhood, etc.) and energy consumption data, the academic partners estimated that each incremental change in the HEAT Rating represented a reduction in gas consumption of 3-5% and a reduction in electricity consumption of 1-1.5%.

Source: Papineau, M & Rivers, N (2019). Visualizing energy efficiency information: Evidence from a randomized controlled intervention. Unpublished raw data.

Key Takeaways

Thermal data collected for an entire city, from an aircraft 4,000 feet in the air, can provide an accurate measure for thermal efficiency. Due to the mass data acquisition, it is a cost effective method to acquire an indicator of thermal efficiency for every building in a city. Compared to a physical inspection, it’s orders of magnitude less.

This also means that aerial thermal remote sensing can be used to aid in energy efficiency efforts by providing thermal data to:

  • Identify focus communities for energy efficiency programming,

  • Measure the impact of energy efficiency programs year over year,

  • Display efficiency opportunities on a map, combining with other datasets, and

  • Model energy efficiency potential and opportunities for building stock improvements.


Darren Jones's picture

Thank Darren for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 23, 2019 6:46 pm GMT

Thermal data collected for an entire city, from an aircraft 4,000 feet in the air, can provide an accurate measure for thermal efficiency. Due to the mass data acquisition, it is a cost effective method to acquire an indicator of thermal efficiency for every building in a city.

This is such an interesting program to hear about, I'm eager to see some follow up studies and pilots from it. It looks like in this case the stakeholder who was doing this was the utility itself in finding opportunities for efficiency, but do you think there are applications for third party energy efficiency firms who maybe don't have access to the data that utilities do? Recognizing you'd have to deal with a bit of the 'ick' factor from customers potentially feeling like their information was used without their consent, could an energy efficiency operator invest in this and then use it for some sort of cold calling for customers?

Darren Jones's picture
Darren Jones on Aug 26, 2019 2:44 pm GMT

Hi Matt, thanks for the comment, there are some additional papers coming out of this pilot, I can provide a link to them once they are published.  They will be focused more on the behaviorial impacts of thermal imagery. 

Good question on the 3rd party efficiency firms, I think the most effective way would be in collaboration with the utility, that way there is an easy way to link in with any efficiency goals for the city and or utility. 

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