Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working with the city of Boston and Cambridge, Mass., to get an estimate of how much heat is leaking out through the walls, roofs, windows and doors of every structure in a city. To handle the task quickly, they outfitted a vehicle to take long-wave IR images of every structure it passes. Imaging all structures is less expensive than each building owner scheduling an energy audit on their own.
One of the team’s goals is to find out which structures are major culprits in leaking energy. That way they can focus energy-efficiency programs on the worst offenders and then check to see if they got results. This contrasts with current efforts that throw money at the problem without seeing if the money is needed or well spent. For example, some property owners take a $2,000 tax credit for replacing windows or adding insulation, but there is no verification process to ensure improvements actually save energy.
The team is using a $1,000 low-resolution camera instead of a $40,000 high-resolution model to save money. The team then feeds multiple images of the same structure into a computer running an MIT-sourced program called Kinetic Super Resolution. It converts low-res images into a high-res mosaic image. This could lower the barrier to widespread use of thermal imaging and could let many other cities carry out similar inexpensive energy audits
The research team is now developing software that would translate a mosaic image into an estimate of the cost for improvements, as well as estimate the return-on-investment from those improvements.