Theoretical Minimum Thermal Load in Buildings
Building cooling and heating accounts for a large portion of total global energy use and requires commensurate amounts of resources, which contribute significantly to global warming. Traditionally, addressing this issue has meant improving the efficiency of equipment supplying the thermal energy, reducing envelope heat transfer, and reducing air infiltration. However, this approach is already reaching practical limits. In this perspective, we explore (1) how to reduce thermal load in buildings theoretically and (2) how to achieve that reduction and dramatically lower the energy required to support building loads practically. First, we discuss our framework developed for calculating the theoretical minimum thermal load (TMTL) in buildings. Our analysis shows that current thermal loads in buildings are more than an order of magnitude higher than the TMTL. We also introduce an approximate formula to calculate energy savings from zonal control of thermal load, which shows that the majority of zonal control benefits can be achieved with fewer than 10 zones. Then, we discuss pros and cons of various approaches and strategies to achieve the TMTL. We conclude our perspective with some longer-term R&D ideas, such as thermally adaptive clothing and thermal storage to help approach the TMTL, while providing the additional benefit of interacting with the renewable grid of the future.