Kristen Cetin: Utilizing smart technology to understand building energy use

PhotoKristen Cetin, an assistant professor in civil engineering, is making the built environment more energy efficient through the use of smart technology and data. This technology connects buildings to the electric grid, and combined with the data it collects, helps to improve an understanding of building energy use and continuously monitors its performance.

Cetin grew up in Maryland where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Maryland. Much of her graduate research studied the use of building-integrated photovoltaics, a technology that integrates solar panels into the windows and walls of a building. More specifically, Cetin studied the risk associated with extreme events on these panels, such as downbursts, hurricanes and tornados. It was during this research that she came to appreciate the importance and need for a focus on sustainable practices in building design.

After Cetin completed her degree, she worked in the Building Technology division of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH), a commercial building consulting firm. At SGH, she participated in a variety of projects that involved the design, investigation and rehabilitation of the building envelope, or the parts of a building that separate the interior environment from the exterior.

The most interesting projects, Cetin explains, were those in which she investigated buildings that had failed in some way. Cetin would work with a team of engineers to diagnose the problems and plan a way to retrofit or create a better design for the building. The challenges she learned about while working at SGH motivated her to return to school to conduct research on ways to better understand why these issues occur and how to prevent them.

In 2012, she started at the University of Texas studying for her Ph.D. and researching the use of smart technologies in buildings.

She joined Iowa State in 2016 and has been extremely impressed with the energy-related research and opportunities for collaboration at the university as well as the state of Iowa. She says she’s excited to be working with faculty and students in multiple departments on energy-related topics.

Cetin’s research at Iowa State broadly focuses on energy efficiency in buildings. Her main projects focus on stitching the large amount of collected data together using multiple modeling techniques to determine how a building is performing and whether or not there might be an inefficiency or opportunity for energy performance improvement. Her work evaluates both the energy savings benefits as well as non-energy benefits, such as improved property values or even improved health.

Since January, Cetin has been teaching C E 594P – Modeling and Evaluation of Energy Performance of Buildings & Communities. The course introduces students to the technical aspects of modeling and evaluating the energy performance at the building and community scale. This semester the class assessed the energy savings associated with the recently installed district geothermal system and retrofits to the buildings of West Union, Iowa, in partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Cetin says she wants to continue the growth of smart buildings over the long term. “We’ll continue to find ways to advance the technologies we have available so they better monitor building performance,” she adds.

Outside of her research, Cetin enjoys running, camping, rock climbing and anything outdoors. Recently, Cetin and her husband Bora Cetin, an assistant professor in civil engineering, welcomed a new member to their family.