Bridging Energy Trading Algorithms and HVAC: A Physicist's Unexpected Journey

Feb 12, 2024

As I embarked on the intricate path of developing algorithms for energy trading, little did I anticipate that my journey would weave through the realms of HVAC systems and the principles of thermodynamics. My initial academic voyage at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where I pursued a degree in Applied Science (Physics Major), turned out to be very useful. It equipped me with a robust foundation in understanding the natural laws that govern our universe. Yet, the frequency with which I lean on this knowledge in my professional endeavors still manages to surprise me.

Linking physics to the practicalities of energy management and software development might seem unconventional at first glance. However, the complexities of energy trading share a fundamental connection with the principles of thermodynamics, especially when optimizing for efficiency and sustainability in energy usage.

Recently, my exploration took an unexpected turn towards the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) domain. The catalyst for this diversion was an attempt to understand and mitigate excessive energy consumption in residential settings, a challenge that presented itself in the most practical form: a neighbor's air conditioning system.

The temperature difference was only 4 degrees, you want at least 10

Armed with a Fluke thermal image scanner, I embarked on a diagnostic quest to uncover the inefficiencies lurking within this HVAC system. The thermal images revealed a mere 4-5 degree Celsius difference between the intake and exhaust air temperatures of the air conditioning unit. This minimal temperature differential not only highlighted a significant inefficiency but also underscored the importance of practical thermodynamics knowledge in addressing real-world problems.

Thermodynamics 101

The physics behind this is actually not that bad. The idea is to get the highest coefficient of efficiency as possible. In cooling, this is the Carnot COP which can be expressed as the cooling temperature over the difference in temperature from intake to exhast.

The larger the temperate from the better.

This foray into HVAC and thermodynamics serves as a testament to the versatility of a physics education. It underscores how the principles learned within the walls of QUT are not confined to abstract or academic pursuits but are profoundly relevant to tackling contemporary challenges, including those in the burgeoning field of energy management and sustainability.

220, 221, whatever it takes.

Reflecting on this experience, I'm reminded of the startup mantra inspired by the movie quote from "Mr. Mom": "220, 221, whatever it takes." This ethos encapsulates the spirit of adaptability and determination that drives innovation and problem-solving across diverse fields, from energy trading algorithms to the optimization of HVAC systems.

Implications for Batteries

Reflecting on this journey, I'm also reminded of the broader implications of energy efficiency and management, particularly when it comes to integrating technology like battery storage systems. While a battery can significantly reduce costs associated with peak energy usage, the analogy of a "leaking toilet" comes to mind, emphasizing a fundamental principle of efficiency. If the energy load of a household or facility isn't correctly matched or if inefficiencies like improper HVAC installations are present—akin to energy "leaking" against a retaining wall—then the benefits of advanced solutions can be severely undermined.

This realization highlights a critical step in the path toward optimizing energy usage: addressing the most substantial inefficiencies first. It doesn't matter how sophisticated an algorithm or technology might be; if foundational issues such as energy leakage or inefficient equipment operation are not rectified, then the potential for savings and efficiency improvements remains untapped. Just as fixing a leaking toilet is a prerequisite to water conservation, rectifying major energy inefficiencies is essential before one can fully leverage the advantages of battery storage or engage in the nuances of energy trading.

Therefore, the endeavor to optimize energy usage and develop trading algorithms is not just about the application of complex mathematical models or the integration of cutting-edge technology. It is equally about applying a thorough understanding of physical principles and addressing basic inefficiencies that might otherwise go unnoticed. This approach is in line with the startup mantra inspired by "Mr. Mom": "220, 221, whatever it takes." It's a call to action that underlines the importance of adaptability, practical problem-solving, and the willingness to tackle challenges at their root, before venturing into more intricate solutions.

Solar panels on a lawn

As we navigate the intricacies of energy management, sustainability, and technological innovation, this blend of fundamental physics, practical insights, and a holistic approach to problem-solving guides us towards more efficient and effective solutions. It's a testament to the idea that before diving into the "interesting problems," we must first ensure that we're not overlooking the basics—that we're not, in essence, leaking energy "up against the wall."