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Concordia PhD graduate heads to Harvard to continue her research in energy-efficient buildings

Shide Salimi is developing control strategies to confront climate change and maximize occupant comfort levels
July 9, 2020
Shide Salimi: “Applying intelligent and optimal control strategies is one of the methods widely used to make buildings more energy efficient.”
Shide Salimi: “Applying intelligent and optimal control strategies is one of the methods widely used to make buildings more energy efficient.”

In late May, Montreal shattered record temperatures, reaching 36.6°C. Toronto has already had as many days that reached 30°C than it did across June, July and August of last year. According to Natural Resources Canada, the number of extremely hot days in a year is projected to more than double in the next three decades for some parts of the country.

Shide Salimi (MASc 15, PhD 20) recently completed a PhD in civil engineering from Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. Her research focuses on responding to the urgent state of climate change with smarter and more sustainable energy-efficient buildings. Using intelligent and optimal control strategies, she is revolutionizing the way people operate their homes and offices.

‘Our research team aims to develop an optimal building operation framework’

How does this specific image (top right) relate to your research at Concordia?

Shide Salimi: It illustrates the main aim of our research group. Applying intelligent and optimal control strategies is one of the methods widely used to make buildings more energy efficient. These strategies should not only improve the buildings’ energy consumption but also maintain or increase the occupants’ comfort level. These requirements link the optimal control strategies to the space occupancy patterns and occupants’ interactions with building systems.

Our research team aims to develop an optimal building operation framework to fulfill the following goals:

  • Develop a method for extracting detailed occupancy information from big data monitored and collected by a real-time monitoring system.
  • Develop a new occupancy prediction model based on the derived occupancy information.
  • Explore the dependencies between occupancy patterns and building energy use profiles.
  • Analyze the trade-off between building energy consumption and occupants’ comfort.
  • Find potential savings from the application of intelligent, occupancy-centred local control strategies of different building energy-consuming systems.

What is the hoped-for result of your project? And what impact could you see it having on people’s lives?

SS: Since buildings contribute a large portion of global energy consumption, the sustainable development of this sector must have more optimized building operations. The intelligent use of energy within buildings reduces their energy consumption. Doing so revolutionizes the way we operate buildings and creates a better quality of life for building occupants.

The application of the proposed method significantly contributes to building energy management by optimizing building operations as well as improving occupants’ thermal comfort. The outcome of our research also assists decision-makers in evaluating optimized occupancy-centred building operations and investigating their effect on building energy performance.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research?

SS: The accurate occupancy prediction model requires a large amount of input data pertinent to the occupants’ presence and preferences. This shows the space utilization patterns and the desired settings of the building systems, respectively. Collecting this data with proper accuracy is one of the major challenges in this area of research. It requires a monitoring system, which needs setup, commissioning and calibration.

Furthermore, developing a generic model that is independent of the type of office and the number of occupants was another challenge when conducting my research.

There is also a privacy issue when the occupants’ identities are used to have detailed occupancy information. However, this issue can be resolved by anonymizing the occupants’ data by defining occupancy profiles per zone. In addition, having this type of data could be vital for other purposes, such as emergency and security. Informing the monitored occupants about all the benefits coming from using the real-time monitoring system could also be helpful to solve this issue.

What first inspired you to study this subject?

SS: Working in a shared office for several years and observing conflicts between my colleagues in terms of their thermal perception and preferences with regards to their surrounding conditions motivated me to conduct a study to enhance occupants’ comfort levels and subsequently their productivity through the application of local control strategies on building energy-consuming systems.

To this aim, building systems should be managed in a way to satisfy the majority of occupants, which requires investigating the correlation between occupants’ work habits and the operation of different building systems.

In addition, the ever-growing increase in world energy consumption makes it necessary to investigate methods to improve the energy performance of buildings. These facts motivated me to pursue my research in the field of building energy management to come up with solutions that alleviate the above-mentioned problems.

What advice would you give interested science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students to get involved in this line of research?

SS: The application of occupancy-centred local control strategies to make buildings more energy efficient is a fast-growing area of research attracting more and more attention in recent years. I would suggest interested STEM students familiarize themselves with this area of research to incorporate their new ideas in improving the future of buildings and subsequently the future of human lives.

What did you like best about being at Concordia?

SS: Concordia was my school of choice when I started my graduate studies in 2012 and it became my second family where I spent most of my time in the last seven years. It is an amazing place for international students, with great support to help them go through all the difficulties of living in a foreign country.

Besides the friendly and culturally diverse atmosphere of Concordia, our school is well known, especially in my research areas of interest. There are amazing professors who not only help students to succeed in their studies but also provide opportunities for them to work closely with industry.

Are there any partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?

SS: I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Upon receiving this scholarship, I also had the opportunity to get the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement and Mitacs Globalink research award.

In order to take advantage of facilities and expertise that are not available at my home institution, I searched among the best-known research teams working on the same area of research. I came across an established research team at Harvard University and was approved to work there.

Researching in one of the world’s leading-edge laboratories at the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities not only helps me to broaden the vision and horizon of my work but also advances my knowledge.

My research was also supported by the Gina Cody School. I earned multiple awards, including Concordia’s Stand-Out Graduate Research Award, the Concordia Merit Scholarship, the Graduate Student Mobility Award and the Concordia Accelerator Award.

Now, I am a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and a recipient of a Postdoctoral Fellowship from NSERC.

Find out more about
Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.




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