Conference report: COLEB 2014

ETH Zurich

What is COLEB?

COLEB (Computational Optimisation of Low Energy Buildings) is a 2-day workshop and conference held at ETH in Zurich on 6-7 March 2014. The various topics focused on the development and application of computational methods and algorithms into improving various aspects of building design. Some specific areas included:

  • Design optimisation (Using algorithms to improve aspects of building design)
  • Control optimisation (Such as improving the scheduling algorithms of HVAC)
  • Distributed energy systems (Including managing the issues with storage, load management and unplanned outages)

The event was co-organised and ran by Dr. Ralph Evins, a graduate of the Systems Centre and my EngD predecessor at Buro Happold. It was kindly sponsored by the Chair of Building Physics at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Competence Centre – Energy and Mobility Project “Integration of Decentralized Energy Adaptive Systems for cities”.

This is the first iteration of COLEB, and unfortunately it was never intended to be repeated exactly in its current form. However, there is talk of another COLEB workshop possibly being organised in the future. Watch this space!

Why did I go?

I have already attended a conference – FutureBuild at the University of Bath – but did not present – it was far too early in my research, and in any case the theme seemed too far removed from my own work. But COLEB – with its intention of looking at the latest modelling and optimisation methods as applied to efficient building design – seemed perfect for me as a place to give my first presentation.

Your first conference presentation?? What was it like?

In form true to myself, the presentation was only finished mere days before the workshop, and I was still writing my speech for it in the airport. Practising in the mirror in the hotel the night before, I finally had it nailed.

But actually getting up to do the presentation in front of around 30 people, I introduced myself, got on to the first slide, and immediately forgot every word! So, instead of my careful plan, I just started talking. It was roughly in line with my speech but certainly not what I’d rehearsed. In the end, it was a very free-form speech and it was, I think, quite successful, and even though I didn’t stick to my planned speech, the practice was still essential for me being relatively comfortable with it.

How was the rest of it?

As the only participant with a primarily industrial focus to my research, I did hold somewhat of a special position in the conference. There were some very interesting ideas all round, though there was always a voice in the back of my mind judging each speech on the practical and commercial viability, something I think to some extent sets industrial and academic minds apart. But this blue-sky approach is perhaps something we need to be more confident of embracing in industry – we can be too quick to dismiss an idea if we can’t foresee a safe return.
One key benefit of going to conferences is the opportunity to network. COLEB was formed partially as a result of the community of those who attend the likes of the BSO conferences, and there was interest among a number of the participants in creating and attending a second COLEB next year. Specifically with regards to individuals, business cards were exchanged and I have made a number of follow-up commitments with participants, which hopefully may turn into something very interesting.

Seems interesting! Where can I learn more?

You can visit the website here. The website includes copies of my presentation and paper, as well as for the other attendees. You can also contact me directly if you have any questions 🙂

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