Heather Buckberry explains ORNL’s part in creating a smart neighborhood
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has a secret house in a West Knoxville neighborhood.
Forbidden to reveal the location of the house by the Homeowners Association, ORNL researchers quietly monitor energy use from a remote office in Oak Ridge.
The house sits empty most of the time, but the computers don’t know that.
Researchers have rigged humidifiers to human breathing, and space heaters scattered about the house simulate body heat and heat given off by electronics.
Lights and faucets are on timers to turn off and on at different intervals. To the computers back in Oak Ridge, it looks like someone is taking shower, or washing dishes or turning on a lamp to sit down and read a book.
Thermocouple wires hang in virtually every room to collect temperature data and thermostats are outfitted with secondary devices to give more accurate readings.
Two of the upstairs bedrooms contain real beds and other furniture empty bedroom, there are two HVAC units.
“We change those out alot, said ORNL technical project manager Heather Buckberry.
“That’s one of the big things that the center is involved in is equipment research like heating air conditioning. So, we have some partners that have different types of equipment that they would like to have tested in a relevant environment in real houses instead of one of our test chambers at the lab.”
Outside the house, the lawn is perfectly manicured.
“We have to have a service that does that for us because we’re outside of the bounds of the laboratory,” she said.
Maintaining the appearance of the house is part of their HOA agreement. And when researchers leave the house, everything has to be put back to normal.
It may seem like a bit much, but for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, it’s the key to developing software applications that will give homeowners more control over how much electricity their homes use, even in the areas they don’t always think about, like heat pumps, water heaters and air conditioning.
Neighborhood of the future
ORNL’s software applications will be scaled up and implemented in the Southeast’s first micro-grid community.
The neighborhood, called Reynold’s Landing, is still under construction in Hoover, Alabama. The endeavor is a partnership with Southern Company and Alabama Power to gather data in a 62-home subdivision.
Homes in the smart neighborhood will be outfitted with emerging energy-efficient technologies, materials and appliances, including high-efficiency heat pumps, hybrid electric water heaters, intelligent home comfort system thermostats, smart locks, lights, cameras and garage doors.
Each building will have energy-efficient insulation, windows and lighting, and Alabama Power Appliance Center is outfitting the homes with Samsung smart hub appliances.
All the homes in the neighborhood will be connected to a micro-grid that has the capability to generate more than 586,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, the amount needed for a neighborhood the size of Reynold’s Landing.
“It’ll have five natural gas generators there and then it will also have solar panels, neighborhood-scale solar installation and a neighborhood-scale battery storage system so it can generate its own power and it can store,” Buckberry said.
The battery system can generate its power from different sources. If there’s a system-wide power outage, the micro-grid could continue to power the neighborhood from those stores.
Alabama Power will use data collected from the neighborhood to see how the new features are improving the way the homes function.
Two Reynold’s Landing floor plans have already sold. The homes aren’t cheap, however. The most affordable floor plan costs $340,000.
Construction on the neighborhood will not be complete until next year.
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