In the area of energy efficiency (EE) for residential buildings, we face the challenges of observing EE and changing human behavior. Part of the issue is that neither a market nor an industry standard exists for home EE evaluation. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) solution is the Home Energy Score (HES) program. DOE is currently working on the back end of this program but needs to start looking to the next step of creating a user interface for the homeowner. Based on challenges and recommendations from a homeowner feedback survey, Sarah’s team suggested an online, interactive dashboard that will leverage data to allow homeowners to better apply their HES. This dashboard will include messaging and goal-setting mechanisms and a “What-If Tool” to virtually apply the Recommendations section from the homeowner’s HES report. In addition, the dashboard will integrate with existing DOE programs to provide a centralized, convenient access point, reduce “transaction costs” for the homeowner, and provide links to the housing market (i.e., multiple listing services and other listing sites). Lastly, Sarah’s team proposed a matched pairs experimental design to test the effectiveness of our dashboard’s behavioral science functionalities. They suggested running this experiment in Portland, Oregon, because of the city’s recent legislation that requires sellers of single-family homes to disclose their HES report and score at the time of listing. The short-term impact of their solution is that a centralized location for homeowner EE resources will allow homeowners to understand and apply their HES and to invest in specific EE upgrades to improve their HES, all of which will legitimize the HES as a metric of home EE. In the long run, this dashboard will help many cities achieve carbon emissions reductions similar to those in Portland, reduce the information asymmetry concerning EE that is currently present in the real estate market, provide more homeowner data to DOE, and allow for the integration of the HES as a label in markets for home building materials.
Sarah worked under the mentorship of Dr. Piljae Im on a project titled “Building Energy Modeling (BEM) for ORNL Buildings,” which involves modeling real buildings in the area using EnergyPlus and OpenStudio. The project involves comparing the simulation outputs to the real energy data of those buildings and then calibrating the models to increase the accuracy, efficiency, and reliability of the models. After the calibration process, the models will be used to apply and evaluate potential energy conservation measures. Throughout this project, Sarah assisted the team in creating new baselines for a few machine shop space types, which the team plans to include in a conference paper.