September 26, 2016

Lourdes Gutierrez Aliaga is a PhD Candidate for the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology with a background in civil engineering. She came to the Simone Center looking for help to obtain funds for her project and team. Her project was selected for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Connected Buildings Challenge, which required the development of an energy efficiency solution using an open source software called VOLTTRON for building automation from the U.S. Department of Energy. As a result, in August 2016, her project was selected as the most innovative solution. This wasn’t any competition though; her project was evaluated by a group of judges from Amazon, Microsoft, PG&E Utility Company, Emerson, PNNL, the Department of Energy, and representatives from realtors and design firms.


Left: Lourdes Gutierrez and Priyank Kapadia with Joe Hagerman from U.S. Department of Energy and Nora Wang from PNNL. Right: Lourdes with technical advisors, Timothy Vann and Richard Stein from RIT's Facility Management Services Office. 

Dana Wolcott and Richard DeMartino from the Simone Center at RIT helped Lourdes with connections, funding and business advice for the challenge. The team Ventos-Scheduler, formed by Lourdes Gutierrez, Priyank Kapadia and Saurabh Wani, was able to get started through the NSF I-Corp program around June 2016, which is a program held by the Simone Center site to fund student teams and their business concepts.

Lourdes’ project was previously accepted into the Building Integration Research and Development Innovation Program (BIRD-IP), a U.S. Department of Energy fellowship for graduate students that started around February 2016. Lourdes presented her project to the PNNL Challenge as an opportunity to accelerate her project and involve more RIT students. As part of this project and her PhD research, she has also been working closely with the Facility Management Services Office to deploy her solution throughout the campus and build a prototype for the challenge. She wanted to give special thanks to Richard Stein and Timothy Vann, who have been helping with the technical side of the project.

So, what is this amazing project about? Lourdes has broad experience on building projects, managing over 100 projects in Peru, and she is now looking to target low cost building automation.  An open source software like VOLTTRON can considerably reduce the cost of implementation of building automation systems, and can allow the connection of different devices and brands.  In particular the Ventos-Scheduler connects a $2 occupancy sensor to a raspberry pi and to the variable volume airflow controller. The application calculates the airflow using information from the organizational databases and modifies the operation of the heating and cooling system according to real occupation.  For educational buildings, this means substantial energy savings as the equipment is usually operating for the maximum occupation, when in reality the number of registered students varies throughout the day.  Savings are estimated to achieve 20% of the energy consumption, which means potential savings of $5 billion across US educational building.  This solution can also be used in several other buildings such as hotels, office buildings, and manufacturing plants.


Left: VENTOS-Scheduler team- Priyank Kapadia, Lourdes Gutierrez and Saurabh Wani. Right: Certificate of Award as Most Innovative Solution – PNNL Connected Buildings Challenge.

When talking with Lourdes about her next steps for the project, she explained that she plans on finishing her PhD degree in Sustainability at RIT. She now has a lot of opportunities and is trying to keep her options open for a potential startup company. The Ventos-Scheduler team is very excited because the government is interested in investing in open source software for building automation. Currently, they are looking for research collaboration with National Labs, the next level of NSF funding or possibly through other Department of Energy projects as well. They plan on implementing their solution in buildings at RIT.

The Simone Center is very proud of Lourdes and her Ventos-Scheduler team, and is looking forward to all of the success they will have in the future!

Stay tuned for next week's Innovation Spotlight Story on Heart Brain Farm.

For more information on the project and the PNNL Connected Buildings Challenge click here!