Better Building Management with LESA Solar Heat Gain Sensors

(TROY, NY) LESA researchers have found that by simply measuring reflected light in a building, it is possible to estimate solar heat gain from daylight.

The findings, published in the journal “Solar Energy”, demonstrate how low-cost, ceiling mounted color sensors can estimate insolation (heating due to sunlight) by measuring the characteristics of reflected sunlight inside a room. In 2017, more than 2 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity were consumed by heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in residential and commercial buildings in the United States. Using the same network of low cost color sensors that LESA uses for occupant location and tracking, it is now possible to measure solar heat gain and use the collected data, along with occupancy information, to better manage building HVAC loads.

Multiple tests run in both LESA’s Smart Conference Room testbed in Troy, NY and the LESA Hospital Room testbed in Albuquerque, NM showed that the solar heat gain measurement capabilities were nominally the same independent of geographic location.

With the increased use of daylighting in architectural design, it is important to know how much solar heat impacts a building’s temperature, levels of CO2 emissions, and other indoor factors that affect occupancy comfort and energy use. Through the use of this very simple sensor, it is now possible to assess solar heat gain to control the lighting and other temperature management tools such as window shades or electrochromic windows to save energy while still preserving building occupant comfort.

The sensor network enables HVAC systems to more rapidly react to shifts in sunlight intensity throughout the day making preemptive adjustments along the way that improve the management of occupant comfort. Combining LESA’s lighting based occupant detection and localization capabilities, additional HVAC energy savings are possible while the integrated system activates window shading as needed to further improve energy savings and comfort as the sun treks across the sky.

This novel approach to using the properties of light in spaces to create new “Systems that Think™” is just one unique application of the tools being developed at LESA.

About the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA)

Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the LESA is an interdisciplinary, multi-university center developing “Systems that Think™”. The Center engages faculty members, graduate students, research staff, and undergraduates to work on research leading to intelligent systems with adaptive and controllable properties that will change the way society lives and works. The Center joins academia, industry, and government in partnership to produce transformational engineered systems, along with engineering graduates who are adept at innovation and primed for leadership in the global economy.  LESA is headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and partners with Boston University, the University of New Mexico, and Thomas Jefferson University to achieve its objectives. To learn more, go to

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to


Leah Scott, MBA
Marketing and Outreach Manager
Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Office: (518) 276-4010


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