Wireless Controls R&D

On this page you'll find information about the U.S. Department of Energy's wireless controls research projects at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Project Collaborators

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Southern California Edison, Hines GS Properties, Inc., Inovonics Wireless Corporation, NorthWrite Inc., Sensor IQ, Trane, and Texas A&M University Energy Systems Laboratory


Wireless controls have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of advanced sensing and control systems, particularly in existing buildings where installation of wiring can represent 20% to 80% of control project costs. Wireless sensors and controls offer greater flexibility since they can be installed and moved without re-wiring. This option supports the more flexible work spaces desired by businesses today. Ultimately, wireless controls could support personalized control, offering improved thermal comfort, individually-adjusted lighting levels, and other personalized indoor environmental conditions.


Wireless controls research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) includes four primary steps.

  1. Adaptation and demonstration of existing wireless sensor technology—PNNL researchers are adapting, testing, and evaluating existing commercial wireless sensor technologies for heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) and other applications in commercial buildings. Wireless sensors have been used to monitor conditions in indoor spaces as well as in equipment to determine the equipment's operating status and condition.

  2. Development and demonstration of wireless control technology—This activity focuses on extending the use of wireless technology in buildings from sensing only to providing control as well, which places additional cost and technical performance requirements on wireless systems. This step focuses on identifying components with the greatest potential for cost reduction and performance enhancement.

  3. Technology improvements to target components—In this next stage, researchers work to reduce the cost of wireless technology for buildings by focusing on component improvements that will lower the cost and extend the lifetime of wireless sensing and control systems.

  4. Technology deployment and market transformation activities—To accelerate the widespread deployment of wireless sensing and controls for buildings, DOE will:
    1. Work with strategic partners to test and demonstrate the technical and economic performance of enhanced wireless technology in actual commercial buildings
    2. Promote the use of wireless sensors and controls through the Federal Energy Management Program and state energy programs
    3. Work with professional and trade associations to develop standards and guidelines for testing, specifying, and installing wireless sensor and control systems
    4. Integrate wireless sensor/control technology with other energy efficiency technologies (e.g., automated diagnostics, optimized control)


Research is currently under way at PNNL in four project areas.

  1. Wireless End-User Power Metering—PNNL investigators have developed a wireless system for electricity end-use metering. This system enables near real-time measurement, tracking, and reporting for hundreds of appliances and heavy electric equipment within a facility. Easy to install and use, the system provides cost-effective solutions for facility managers interested in proactive energy consumption management and researchers studying electricity use. Individual power meters with 120-VAC or 240-VAC receptacles are connected directly to appliances and report data every 10 seconds to several hours, depending on individual settings. Data are stored centrally and available for viewing, printing, archiving, and downloading into spreadsheets. Wireless radio technology for the original meters was provided by Inovonics Wireless Corporation. Southern California Edison and Hines GS Properties have contributed through all phases of the project from system conceptualization to deployment. Field tests of the power meters were started in Spring 2005 in a commercial building owned and operated by Hines, and with Southern California Edison and its customers as part of a meter loaning program.

  2. Ambient Power Harvesting—PNNL researchers are investigating methods for harvesting ambient power from temperature differences, flows, electromagnetic fields, and light to power wireless sensors. After an initial overview examination of several concepts, researchers began development of energy harvesting using thermoelectric technology to harvest energy from temperature differences in the environment (e.g., the air inside and outside an HVAC duct). Significant advancements are anticipated in the process and cost of producing thermoelectric elements, which will become the centerpiece of sensors powered by temperature differences.

  3. Wireless Sensing and Control for HVAC Terminal Boxes—Investigators at PNNL in collaboration with manufacturers, building owners, and buildings operators have begun examining the potential benefits and applicability of wireless communication for monitoring and controlling the terminal boxes in HVAC systems. A large commercial building may have hundreds of terminal boxes. Operations and maintenance staff rarely inspect or service these units unless an occupant complaint can be directly attributed to failure of a box or a major space remodel is undertaken. This study focuses on determining whether wireless communications might be used to cost effectively monitor and control these units and provide significant energy savings. If warranted based on potential savings, DOE will undertake development of conceptual designs for these wireless monitoring and control systems.

  4. Wireless Infrastructure for Performance Monitoring, Diagnostics, and Control for Small Commercial Buildings—PNNL researchers are working with a team led by NorthWrite Inc. to create an innovative wireless technology platform for performance monitoring, diagnostics, and control of equipment and systems in small commercial buildings. The platform will provide cost-effective energy management and maintenance services by making them available via an Internet browser on the server of an application service provider (ASP). The proposed infrastructure will integrate wireless mesh networking technology with wireless telemetry, automated fault detection, diagnostics, control, and the ASP delivery model. The system will be tested by applying it to rooftop HVAC units and lighting systems. The development team also includes Sensor IQ, Trane, and Texas A&M Energy Systems Laboratory.