UC Davis Small Workspace Air and Remote Monitoring (SWARM)

Large and energy-intensive buildings have historically been attractive targets for campus energy efficiency programs. However, a team of energy engineers and graduate students at UC Davis believe that “small is beautiful” and have rolled out an innovative solution for small campus buildings with a promise of improved control, comfort and troubleshooting. This new approach was based on the fact that UC Davis has around 600 small office buildings — comprising 15 percent of the total campus square footage.

A new monitoring platform based on wireless connected thermostats and electrical meters promises improved control, comfort and troubleshooting in campus small buildings.

As in most small non-residential buildings, space conditioning in these buildings is directly adjusted with thermostats, and because they are not connected to the centralized system facility staff cannot remotely monitor, control or conduct fault detection in these buildings. With buildings spread over more than 5,000 acres at UC Davis, scheduling and managing energy use across many small buildings has historically been challenging.

Mobile interface for the SWARM system, showing thermostat setpoint control and other features.

Beginning in summer 2017, UCD’s Energy Conversation office installed a new monitoring platform based on ‘Internet-of-Things’ wireless connected devices. The system includes thermostats by Pelican Wireless Systems and electrical meters by eGauge, which the project team first installed in a pilot test in three small campus buildings. The implementation was led by student coordinators, and was developed in collaboration with the campus IT security team, facilities maintenance managers, and with an occupant contact for each building. The project team named the new system SWARM, a fitting acronym for Small Workspace Air and Remote Monitoring.

Installation of the thermostats required little additional hardware, and because they communicate over a separate low-power radio network they do not interfere with the buildings’ wifi traffic. Disruption to building operations was minimal, as the electric meter installations required only a brief shutdown outside of typical office hours. However, project team members stress the importance of getting campus IT involved early, as some of the main implementation challenges came from identifying technologies that met the campus security requirements.

This SWARM desktop interface shows multiple thermostat locations.

The SWARM system is estimated to yield approximately 25 percent energy savings by optimizing the schedules of programmable thermostats, facilitating automatic holiday and nighttime shutdowns, and temperature setbacks. Additional benefits include improved comfort and scheduling, ease of troubleshooting and the potential for rapid scalability. By using a smartphone app or website, building occupants can customize the heating and cooling thermostat settings for their building, and scheduling space conditioning when needed outside standard hours, for example for weekend events. Finally, remote access to building trend data will improve the ability of facilities staff to identify and diagnose problems and faults.

Although the system is still new, it has already demonstrated its usefulness. For example, the team discovered that a single HVAC unit had been running continuously, contributing 65 percent of the cooling load among six buildings being monitored. Addressing that single fault could provide as much as $1,000 in annual savings; such discoveries could contribute to a rapid payback on the system’s cost.

UC Davis' Barn houses the John Muir Institute of the Environment.

In addition to these primary benefits, the SWARM system has been leveraged by other campus energy groups to conduct projects on thermal leakage, HVAC and lighting integration, and internet-connected economizers. The project team maintains a website for the campus community with information about how eligible campus buildings can participate in SWARM, and they are actively working to engage additional building managers.

As of fall 2018, the SWARM installation is complete in nine buildings, including the iconic campus ‘Barn’ that houses the John Muir Institute of the Environment. SWARM has also become part of the UC Davis “New Building” standard. Nicolas Fauchier-Magnan, with UC Davis’ Energy Conservation Office, notes that the project offers great opportunity to address the many small buildings that were mostly unknown to energy managers. He says that after passing the initial hurdle of setting up the pilot in a few buildings, expansion to more buildings can proceed rapidly. The energy office is now working towards its current goal of installing the system in a total of 60 campus buildings.

Images courtesy of UC Davis and Michael Lin.

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Green Features
  • Internet-connected programmable thermostat and energy meters
  • Estimated 25% energy savings
  • Ongoing monitoring for schedule optimization and remote troubleshooting
  • Monthly reports to building managers
  • Engagement with building occupants
  • Enables research and facility innovations
Annual Estimated Energy, Carbon and Cost Savings
Completion Date
Project Team