Imperial College London

New optimisation model reveals impact of low carbon tech in commercial buildings


Commercial building

Imperial researchers have developed a model to give stakeholders a better understanding of the trade-offs between new technologies before installation

Commercial buildings, such as supermarkets, offices and warehouses are huge energy consumers. Companies managing these buildings are making continuous efforts to not only reduce their carbon footprint but also to make these sites more energy efficient and resilient. A clear example of this trend is the CHP units installed at Imperial’s South Kensington Campus.

Organisations have a number of options available for local energy generation (also known as distributed energy systems or DES): photovoltaic panels, heat pumps, battery systems, combined heat and power units (CHP) or organic Rankine cycles (ORC) are just a few examples. The real challenge is, therefore, choosing the best option, or the best combination of options, while taking into consideration the priorities and constraints set by stakeholders before committing to such investments. Implementing these distributed energy systems in a profitable manner is not an easy task in today’s constantly changing energy market. Thus, a holistic approach to such energy systems is highly important, and establishing models which can help assessing the impact of certain technologies is in demand.

We hope this work helps the low carbon technology community who is interested in decarbonising the built environment to get a better understanding of the comprehensive criteria that needs to be evaluated when assessing distributed generation investments.

– Salvador Acha Izquierdo

Lead Author

Researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London have expanded the previously existing integrated Technology Selection and Operation (TSO) model for DES to include a range of different options and increase the number of indicators it can evaluate. The model evaluates a number of complex parameters such as system integration dynamics and energy cost projections to show a multi-year analysis of expected operation of applied energy systems; therefore optimising the design capacity and operation schedule in order to maximise the benefits such technologies can offer. 

The new TSO model is significantly different from any previous models, as it considers a range of technology investments from real life settings in terms of technical, financial and environmental impacts. It is easy to customise: shareholders can indicate the importance of different key performance indicators and the model will change based on the input to give decision-makers looking into deploying a new energy system the best possible option.

Subsequently, the researchers used data from an existing UK food distribution centre to case study and show the advantages and disadvantages of integrated energy systems. This work was done with support from the food retailer Sainsbury’s as part of the research partnership it has with Imperial College London. The exercise identified  that based on current UK market conditions, the preferred investment option in this case is a CHP coupled with an ORC unit or an absorption chiller. The TSO model, which was published in Energy this month, provides valuable insights for stakeholders to make the best decision when evaluating the installation of energy systems. 

The researchers are continuing to work on the model, specifically on expanding the data library and refining integrated system configurations as well as assessing the risk associated with uncertainties.


Salvador Acha, Arthur Mariaud, Nilay Shah, Christos N. Markides. Optimal design and operation of distributed low-carbon energy technologies in commercial buildings. Energy, 2017. The article is available as open access.


The research was supported by Sainsbury's as part of the partnership with Imperial College London.

[Article written by Dora Petra Olah, an Undergraduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering.]


Genevieve Timmins

Genevieve Timmins
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