Simulation, Challenge Testing & Validation of Occupancy Recognition & CO2 Technologies Cat A/B

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East Lansing,
Project Term:
06/19/2020 - 07/31/2022

Critical Need:

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) consumes a significant portion of the energy used in buildings. Much of this is wasted energy, used when buildings are either not occupied at all, or occupied well under their maximum design conditions. Traditional occupancy sensor systems are often used in buildings to adjust lighting levels, but they are not accurate enough, nor are they typically connected to HVAC systems to achieve significant energy savings. New innovative sensor systems can include human presence sensors, people-counting sensors, and low-cost CO2 sensors. Their improved accuracy and reliability can enable advanced control of HVAC systems, thereby reducing overall annual energy consumption for homes and commercial environments.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Michigan State University (MSU) will develop a comprehensive testing protocol and simulation tool to evaluate the reliability, energy savings potential, and ease of commissioning of occupancy sensor system technologies for commercial and residential buildings. This will include controlled laboratory and field testing considering several model interior configurations and diverse residential and commercial building types. Ground truth occupancy values will be established from realistic occupancy scenarios. MSU will disseminate results from this effort to the HVAC community to help establish a baseline for occupancy sensor performance evaluation.

Potential Impact:

If successful, SENSOR projects will dramatically reduce the amount of energy needed to effectively heat, cool, and ventilate buildings without sacrificing occupant comfort.


Lower electricity consumption by buildings eases strain on the grid, helping to improve resilience and reduce demand during peak hours, when the threat of blackouts is greatest.


Using significantly less energy could help reduce emissions attributed to power generation. In addition, improved interior air quality could help prevent negative effects on human health.


Buildings will require less energy to operate, reducing heating, cooling, and ventilation costs for businesses and families. In addition, better controlled ventilation may lead to improved indoor air quality (ensured by an accurate occupant count, and validated via widespread CO2 detection) that may, in turn, lead to improved occupant productivity.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Marina Sofos
Project Contact:
Kristen Cetin
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