SWARM: A Breakthrough for Smaller Buildings


Increasing Visibility

The UC Davis main campus houses around 1, 200 buildings of various sizes and usage. Some larger buildings' HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems can be monitored remotely from Facilities Management because they are connected centrally to the same system. However, this leaves out smaller buildings that operate from individual HVAC units, much like the ones you would have in your home. 

The smaller buildings make up about 15% of overall campus square footage, which can be difficult to monitor due to lack of visibility on our remote systems.

swarm logo


SWARM, or Small Workplace Air and Remote Monitoring, aims to increase smaller buildings' visibility and be more involved in ECO's inclusive effort in energy efficiency campus-wide. 


What's all the buzz about?

In the summer of 2017, the Energy Conservation Office started looking into a project that would allow HVAC and electricity usage monitoring of smaller campus buildings. Abe McKay, a graduate student working with ECO, spearheaded SWARM as a solution to increase campus visibility.

The goals of SWARM:
  • Improve the comfort of the people using the building,
  • Learn more about the building's use patterns and needs, and
  • Trim energy waste when the building's vacant.


How does it work?

SWARM has two technologies for monitoring the HVAC systems of small buildings — Internet-connected thermostats and electricity meters (if they are not already in place).

Above: an internet connected thermostat

Newly installed electricity meters are also connected to the Internet to provide live data usage for SWARM buildings.


Occupant view
Above: A Controls interface for an internet-connected thermostat.
Benefits of using Internet-connected thermostats
  • "Optimum Start" boots up the HVAC system early to get the space to the desired temperature
  • Simple thermostat interface
  • Visibility to past trends
  • Increased flexibility for users due to remote access via phones or computers
  • Faster repairs due to remote troubleshooting




Behind the scenes at ECO

With remote access to the Pelican Wireless thermostats, the Energy Conservation Office has more control to scheduling to improve energy efficiency. These thermostats allow ECO to schedule the HVAC system to be off on holidays to include more buildings in our holiday shutdowns and work with occupants to turn buildings off at night. 


The Barn

Active SWARM Pilots

The project began with three buildings. The Barn, which houses the Natural Reserve System and the John Muir Insititute of the Environment, Transportation and Parking Services building, and Robbins Annex. The only energy saving intervention so far has been shutdowns during the holidays. The pilots also allow data collection for trend analysis. 


Creating a beeline for other projects

The California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) plans on initiating a project to integrate lighting, HVAC and window systems together for total remote control to improve building efficiency. With SWARM in place, the CLTC can work with buildings like The Barn, which already has wireless thermostats in place and remote HVAC system access.

SWARM opens up a lot of opportunities for others to conduct energy-related projects. To find opportunities for future SWARM projects, a Mechanical Engineering Senior Design project is flying a drone at night to take thermal images of buildings and identify which buildings' HVAC systems are running when they don't need to be. We will try to correct this by starting SWARM projects in these buildings. 

Other potential projects:

Pelican Wireless also has remote access economizers that utilize outside air to ventilate or cool indoor space. With the Internet-connected thermostats already in place, additional economizers can increase building energy efficiency, allow remote troubleshooting, alert for repairs, and generate past trends for future improvements. 

Expanding the pilot

Veronica Contreras, an undergraduate Engineering intern at ECO, is helping Abe expand SWARM to other buildings on campus. She is currently working with the Hutchison Child Development Center and Finance, Operations, and Administration building to install and monitor Pelican Wireless thermostats. 


Following ECO's Mission

The Energy Conservation Office strives to create an energy efficient campus. SWARM is an excellent example of ECO's effort, which merited an award from the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC) for best practice in Energy Efficiency at the Campus Level. 

If you have any questions about SWARM or would like to see if your building is a good candidate for SWARM, send us an email at energyfeedback@ucdavis.edu.