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Improving Energy Efficiency at Pittsburgh International Airport

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Article Posted On 3/21/2016

Because buildings consume almost 40 percent of total energy in the United States, owners and facility managers try to make their buildings more energy efficient to lower costs and minimize their environmental impact. Airports, in particular, have a strong desire to lower their energy use, due to their large energy footprint and continuous operation.

To address this challenge, the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIA) partnered with Carnegie Mellon University researchers -- Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) faculty members Burcu Akinci and Mario Berges, and CEE graduate student Minkyung Kang. With PITA funding, they are working toward forecasting the airport's energy use and understanding the relationship with its operational schedule and other building characteristics.

The research team's primary goal was to find the variables and information needed to forecast the airport's energy use. The building automation system installed and operated by Honeywell International provided access to the airport's building control system and historical energy usage data. They also gained an understanding of user requirements and interviewed airport facility managers and engineers to find the difficulties and gaps they faced while attempting to achieve energy efficient operations.

The team noticed these airport personnel had been trying many different approaches to energy efficiency, including performing an energy audit and installing high energy-efficient lighting. However, the airport's challenge was in saving energy costs while maintaining their customer comfort level.

The team concluded that in order for the airport operators to achieve energy cost savings in the long run, it is necessary to develop methods that optimally manage energy resources without sacrificing the level of service. Only with a careful consideration of impact on occupants and availability of resources, energy saving efforts can remain valid. The team specifically paid attention to the potential of using the passenger flow estimated by flight schedule, as well as building space usage information to support energy saving decision- making process. The models and methodologies being developed in the project are designed to help airport engineers understand the impact of occupant flows on energy use as well as the influence of energy saving strategies on occupant comfort.

Since engaging in this initially funded PITA project, the Carnegie Mellon research team has expanded their focus to include airports in the United States, which are struggling with similar issues. Minkyung Kang, the graduate student on the team, submitted a proposal on the better utilization of demand response by airports to the Graduate Research Program, which is administered by the Airport Cooperative Research program in the Transportation Research Board (TRB). She was chosen as one of 10 selected teams that won a $10,000 scholarship for one year of research. Kang will present her findings at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting, an international meeting for transportation leaders, including state/federal agencies, private consultants and educational institutions.

The outcome of this project will resolve the difficulties airport engineers and managers face when trying to reduce building energy costs. Once implemented, the findings will not only help building owners earn extra revenue by better taking advantage of demand response opportunities, they can also help communities stabilize their local grids and can be expanded to other types of buildings in a variety of industries.