Blog #1: New Project, New Skills

Hi everyone! After much anticipation, I finally started my internship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) last week. Now, I’m excited to share my experience during these two weeks! 

The first day of my internship began with a morning weekly Zoom call meeting where I was introduced to the members of Dr. Tianzhen’s team. Then, I had an individual call with Dr. Tianzhen to further learn about the research structure and ongoing projects, as well as to discuss my direction of interest for this research internship. At the end of our discussion, we agreed that working on modeling and simulating the buildings in Winchell district of Fresno using the CityBES program to achieve 30%-70% total energy reduction and 30% electricity generation from solar PV would be the best opportunity to maximize my knowledge and expose me to a new set of skills.  

Within the next two days, I had to learn about using the CityBES program by reading through published research papers and attending a tutorial meeting with a graduate student before starting my simulation. The CityBES program allows me to measure the maximum potential energy reduction in buildings by simulating different scenarios using various combinations of the listed energy conservation measures (ECM). 

Figure 1 is a table showing the total number of each building type and the floor area from the Winchell district that I need to simulate.

With CityBES, I started my project by running two simulation scenarios:

  • Using ECM 3, which is to replace existing lighting with LED upgrade (0.6W/sf), on all building types (single & multi-family housing, retail, and offices)
  • Using both ECM 3 and ECM 19, which is to apply wall insulation (R15) in addition to LED upgrade, on all building types except for single-family housing (to minimize the processing load for simulation)

Figure 2 shows a screenshot of the CityBES program after simulating ECM 3. The colors on the buildings determine the value of the reduced energy after applying the ECM. With the majority of buildings are blue color-coded, the result shows that the ECM only reduced around 8% energy use.

However, even from my very first simulation, I already encountered some challenges. As an architecture major, I did not have a strong programming skill. So, I simply used the spreadsheet formula along with the built-in chart feature to analyze and represent the results. Unfortunately, the data representation was not as clear and effective as I expected. Thus, beyond my working hours, I dedicated some time to self-learn Python for data-analyzing. As a result, I managed to visualize my data through these histograms.

Figures 3 and 4 are histograms to show the percentage of site energy saving on the buildings in Winchell district after simulating using ECM 3 and both ECM 3 & ECM 19. 

Because it was still at the early stage of my project, the majority of the simulation result was approximately only 8% reduced energy. For the combined ECM 3 & ECM 19, I could achieve up to 30% reduced energy only for retail and office buildings, but not residential. 

In the second week, I was assigned to the Red Team, which has a similar project like mine and attended their weekly meeting. During that meeting, I had the opportunity to present and discuss my results with other team members. The team leader suggested that I should check the simulation data that produce negative results because it seemed quite abnormal. To do so, I had to self-learn to use the EnergyPlus software, so I could check if the negative value in simulation data was correct or not. Additionally, because the CityBES was fully used this week to simulate a project in Los Angeles, I was assigned to help other projects by downloading and compiling smart meter data on the ASU campus. Although it was not a difficult task, it was quite a tedious process because, in the end, it totaled to approximately 200 buildings and 1.5 GB worth of data. 

Currently, I’m still learning to use the EnergyPlus software to identify the negative values in my previous results. For the next week, my goal is to achieve 30%-50% reduced energy for all buildings, particularly for residential buildings. I appreciate the first two weeks of my internship, even though it was mostly learning new programs and software. However, it was really important to me because I had the opportunity to directly use my skills in the working environment. Moreover, these two weeks taught me to stay motivated and optimistic to continue my project despite lacking on some skills because it simply means I have recognized the specific areas that I need to improve and learn.