Blog #2: Problems & Positivity

Hi everyone! Welcome back to my blog!

Last week was the third week of my internship, which was quite a busy week for me. During that week, I encountered several problems with my CityBES simulations. One of the problems was that some of the ECMs (Energy Conservation Measures) were not simulated properly, particularly on multifamily and single-family housings. At first, I thought something was wrong with the new server that they had recently set up; however, the real problem was actually because not all ECMs were compatible with residential buildings, which approximately made up nearly to 90% of the Winchell district in the city of Fresno that I was supposed to simulate. Fortunately, after clarifying with both of my seniors, Kaiyu and Wanni, they helped me to list all 29 out of 88 ECMs that were applicable to the residential projects. 

Besides their help with clarifying that problem, I was also guided by Kaiyu to expand my data analysis further by including the CO₂ emission reduction and the viability of clean energy conversion from natural gas to electricity in addition to analyzing the site energy saving and payback cost. Because one major energy consumption for the majority of the buildings in that district was water heating, I used the ECM 72, which upgrades heat pump water heater (COP 3.3) and switches energy usage from natural gas to electricity. However, upon analyzing the ECM package data from the simulation, I was really surprised by the sudden leap for payback cost. Without the ECM 72, the payback cost was simply 40 years, but as soon as I applied the ECM 72, the payback cost unreasonably jumped to 10,000+ years. Because of this strange result, I decided to analyze the EnergyPlus breakdown end uses, which I learned from the team’s knowledge sharing EnergyPlus workshop program. Apparently, after evaluating the datasets, I discovered that the increase in demand energy charges did not make any sense. As a result, after reporting the problem to Kaiyu, she notified me that the ECM 72 was under the debugging process.

For this week, while the ECM 72 was being fixed, I focused on continuing the rest of the simulation as well as searching and compiling a list of applicable incentives for the city of Fresno. These incentives mainly targeted to reduce the payback cost for improving building energy systems through various loans and rebate programs from the government.  

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my target for these two weeks was to achieve site energy saving between 30%-50%. However, because of the problem with the ECM 72, my target fell slightly off with only 30%-40% energy saving. This is not really a problem for me, because in the end, I could help the team to find a bug in the system as well as expand my simulation to include CO₂ emission reduction and clean energy conversion. As seen in the chart below, even though the energy-saving only reached up to 40%, the natural gas saving actually reached up to 80%. 

Additionally, in my opinion, this Covid-19 remote working situation was actually very helpful for my internship. Because each simulation could take hours to process, I usually multitasked to make my time as productive as possible. While the simulation was running in the background, I analyzed data from previous simulation results as well as doing a different assigned task, which for my case in this week was to investigate the applicable incentive programs. Moreover, because the simulation process was very time consuming, I could not really constrain myself to work within the 8 am-5 pm working hours. This is because, if I did not really have the data to analyze additional tasks, I would be wasting a lot of time waiting for the simulation to finish. Hence, even after 5 pm or before 8 am, I would still usually spend some time preparing for the simulation, so I could run it overnight.

In conclusion, I believe that when we encountered problems in our work, it is entirely up to us to react to those problems. I could simply feel discouraged and complained when the simulation was not working properly or when I had to miss the opportunity of working in the lab directly. However, I realized that it is much more rewarding to look at the bright side and persist on solving the problems. Therefore, in trying times like these past two weeks, let's continue to stay positive!