[Editor’s Note: Today we've got a guest post from former CSE intern Angela Qin, who reflects on her time at Fraunhofer and explains how her research into thermostat usability helped pave the way for her future career.]
In 2011, I completed my graduate studies in Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Until then, I had not been exposed to sustainable technologies, but I have always been excited by change and new experiences. For my Master’s project, I tackled the challenge and delved into a scaled-down model building, creating control schemes for a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. This experience helped me land a great internship in building energy efficiency research at the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems.
During my eight-month internship at CSE, I was fortunate enough to be involved in a multitude of different tasks. These in turn taught me more than I could have ever imagined. For instance, I mastered Labview—a graphic software language used primarily for data acquisition and automation— and was involved in automating sensor calibration, deploying equipment in the field, and analyzing collected data. Field deployment in particular turned out to be unexpectedly challenging: tasks that were simple in a lab environment, such as setting up home energy devices, proved to be much more complicated when dealing with real people, unpredictable schedules, and a variety of home and apartment types.
My most rewarding project involved research into thermostat usability. Under sponsorship from the US Department of Energy (DoE)’s Building America program, CSE’s Building Energy Efficiency Group (BEEG) investigated how much of an impact the usability of programmable thermostats had on energy usage in households. This was an exciting project to work on for several reasons. For one, our research leaned heavily on the behavioral aspects of energy consumption— after all, even the most advanced thermostat will not provide energy savings if it’s not used appropriately by residents. This meant collaborating with CSE’s behavioral psychologists, an experience that opened horizons beyond my own, more technical background.
I was also able to play a variety of roles in the project. I was involved in the initial deployment of the thermostats and sensors needed to monitor residents’ energy usage, and created software program packages to analyze the enormous amount of data generated by the sensors over the course of the study. In addition, I helped interpret the final data, which are currently being further analyzed by the BEEG team in preparation for presentation and publication later this year.
I feel that experiences like these were extremely valuable in paving the way for my future career. I have recently accepted a position as a Senior Product Management Associate at Alarm.com, a company providing residential and commercial security solutions as well as complementary building automation and residential energy management products. I look forward to my new role, and am excited about the challenges it will undoubtedly bring. I am so glad I accepted the internship from Fraunhofer CSE all those months back. Had I not, I would not have made amazing friends from all over the world and gained great career experiences.