PLAN 74: Article
Four New Research Projects In Energy Efficiency

SA+P’s Growing Role in MIT’s Energy Initiative

Nearly a third of 13 new projects recently funded by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) are being led by faculty in the School of Architecture + Planning. Established as a top priority by President Susan Hockfield in September 2006, MITEI is an Institute-wide initiative designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future, and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today's energy systems. To date, MITEI's seed fund program has supported more than 50 early-stage research proposals plus ignition and planning grants, including previous grants to SA+P professors Marilyne Andersen, John Fernandez, Michael Flaxman, Judith Layzer and Les Norford. Of the four new projects at SA+P, two have received seed grants – funding that lasts from one to two years – and two have been awarded shorter-term ‘planning grants’. The newly-funded projects are:

Seed Grants

Allocating Energy in Buildings. (Neil Gershenfeld Media Arts and Sciences; Carlo Ratti and Harvey Michaels, Urban Studies and Planning). The first experiment of its kind on a large built space, this research will use the entire MIT campus as a test bed for developing a platform to gauge how much energy is wasted in underused built space, and to identify improvements in energy allocation. MIT is well suited for this because of its unique network of more than 100,000 sensors that can monitor the functioning of its building automation system, and by a ubiquitous WiFi network that makes it possible to assess human occupancy in virtually every room. While the project’s initial focus will be on the MIT campus, the researchers intend to extend their findings and technologies to commercial buildings as well as residential complexes with more substantial funding from government agencies and industry.

Evaluating Fenestration Systems. (Marilyne Andersen, Architecture). This project will develop new metrics for assessing the energy savings potential of advanced fenestration systems developed over the past two decades – including complex glazing and shading systems, and devices for redirecting the direct and diffuse components of natural light to control solar radiation. The research will provide ways to describe façade systems in such a way that manufacturers, architects, builders and owners can evaluate them not only in terms of energy savings potential but also, ultimately, of their other benefits such as visual and thermal comfort, health, productivity, etc. Currently, such performance metrics simply don’t exist.

Planning Grants

Expanding the Use of Solar Textiles. (Sheila Kennedy, Architecture). An outgrowth of Kennedy’s SOFT HOUSE project, this research will explore the design and development of a solar textile infrastructure to operate between the large scale of urban energy systems and the discrete ownership structure of living units in dense cities. The project will create a new model for clean energy delivery that engages digital mass manufacturing processes in the textile industry to create significant cost and installation advantages over conventional building integrated photovoltaics. Working with Portuguese urban planning and engineering collaborators, the MIT team will create prototypes for the sustainable retrofit of 20,000 households in the historic Casa Burguesa row house district of Porto, Portugal. The SOFT CITIES model will produce design and sustainable urban system concepts that can be applied to dense urban districts in South America, Asia and the United States. It also holds the potential to attract future funding from a large consortium of industry partners.

Reducing Urban Energy Consumption. (Christopher Zegras and Carlo Ratti, Urban Studies and Planning, with Moshe Ben-Akiva, Civil and Environmental Engineering). This project aims to develop an integrated model of land use, transportation and energy use that will enable evaluation of a range of policies and projects for reducing energy consumption in metropolitan areas. The model will include components based on micro-simulations of both individual/household behavior and organization/firm behavior, and outputs of the disaggregate models will be translated into aggregate measures of energy and resource consumption. The approach will allow the development of a new suite of performance metrics that will enable much more effective decision making in urban settings, and will also demonstrate the value of advanced information and communication technologies for data gathering and planning applications – a key contribution to planning, given the historical difficulties in gathering and updating reliable data for such purposes.

Other SA+P faculty involved with the MIT Energy Initiative include Leon Glicksman, Kent Larson, Karen R. Polenske and Lawrence Susskind. Glicksman plays a central role in the effort, co-chairing MITEI’s ‘Walk the Talk' task force on campus energy issues; also part of that task force is Christopher Zegras.