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Today Europe is severely tormented by a global economic downturn, incomparable to anything seen in the last decades, and with unpredictable consequences. For Europe to shield itself from the ripples of the economic crisis, persevere and, if possible, strengthen its role as a leader in world affairs, proactive actions and sensible decisions are required. Technological innovation, efficient utilization of available human and material resources, improved efficiencies through behavioral changes and better education, are essential ingredients for the development of successful policies and strategies. In addition obvious environmental and sustainability considerations make the case for actions to improve energy efficiencies and move towards low-carbon economies. The “20 20 by 2020”-targets (i.e. 20% reduction in green house gases and 20% share of renewable energies in EU energy consumption by 2020) require orchestrated efforts to improve energy efficiency in all sectors and enhance penetration of renewable-energy sources. The buildings sector accounts for 40% of the total energy consumed and it is widely recognized that there is untapped potential for energy-efficiency and renewable energy utilization. To exploit this potential new approaches are required that challenge the perceived and move beyond-the-state-of-the-art.

In project PEBBLE an ICT-based tool will be developed to support the operation of EPBs and energy-smart buildings in general. To illustrate the problems that might arise consider the following example: the presence of renewable-energy generation sources presents the challenge of “generation-consumption matching,” due to the atypical availability of energy. PEBBLE is an automatic decision tool that uses a predictive non-myopic control and optimization methodology, utilizing a whole-building thermal simulation model to represent the building and its subsystems, and capable of taking “near-optimal” decisions regarding the operation of the building and it’s subsystems, to maximize impact and achieve efficient utilization of energy. PEBBLE is not just about improved energy-efficiency or generation-consumption matching, it is about utilizing harmoniously, and most effectively all installed systems in a building, taking into account human factors, and adapting the decisions in (almost) real-time as and when uncertainties occur. The holistic view taken by the PEBBLE system along with the potential of most effectively and harmoniously utilizing all available resources makes it an ICT-based “enabler of energy efficiency” and along with a reasonable installation of renewable sources will help realize significant energy savings reaching or even surpassing the target of 30% reduction. Building occupants have a dual sensor-actuator role in the PEBBLE framework: through user-interfaces humans act as sensors communicating their thermal comfort preferences to the PEBBLE system, and in return the PEBBLE system returns information with the goal of educating users, engaging them in the effort of taking proper decisions. Appropriately defined user interfaces can help conceptualize energy (e.g. by providing real-time smart metering information, or present energy flows) and thus create energy-aware users not just in the office but in every aspect of their everyday lives – and in that sense, initiate behavioral changes in the society at large.

A PEBBLE installation requires integration of a number of components: thermal simulation tools to predict thermal behavior of the system; the BO&C methodology to take decisions; sensors to communicate the state of the building to the models; actuators to communicate the decisions taken by the B&OC methodology; and user-interfaces for the end-users. Communication between the physical and the simulation layer is achieved through the user-interfaces, sensors, and actuators. Interoperability of these various tools and communication is achieved through the use of wireless, interoperable and scalable communication technologies, capable of utilizing components from different suppliers. Interchangeability is planned for the thermal simulation tools, an aspect particularly important for the commercial valorization of the PEBBLE tools. The use of state-of-the-art thermal simulation software is gaining ground in the design and pre-implementation (certification) phases, these models can then be used within a PEBBLE framework.

A particularly important aspect is demonstration of the PEBBLE methodologies in three real-world buildings that posses different characteristics and various technologies. A hypothesis testing approach will be followed to test various scenarios in an effort to develop a systemic understanding of what affects a building’s energy performance, and what the balance is between proper design and good decisions. To mitigate difficulties associated with accurate and verifiable quantification of system performance, we introduce the GCEI index. This index sets a common energy- (or cost-) based denominator allowing us to compare at a system-level, various energy-saving solutions, and is meaningfully computed using ICT tools to be developed as part of the PEBBLE project. The evaluation can provide valuable information to policy-makers and can also contribute to the analysis and further investigation and further enhancement of the EN 15232 and EN15377.

Overall through better decisions, understanding and tools, the PEBBLE project will reinforce the European industrial and technological position in ICT-enabled energy efficiency technologies and, more importantly, lead to reduced energy intensity of the economy.

In that sense, project PEBBLE puts our little “pebble” in the construction of a more competitive and sustainable Europe.
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