Inverse Reinforcement Learning Control for Building Energy Management

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus Citations


Reinforcement learning (RL) based control is widely considered a promising approach in building automation and control as it has demonstrated the potential to deal with complex objectives in adjacent domains like robotics, autonomous vehicles, gaming applications, and advertisement recommendations. When applied to any environment, model-free RL learns to improve its control performance over time without requiring a control model, by receiving and then analyzing feedback from the building environment after each control action. Operational objectives are becoming increasingly complex through the simultaneous consideration of thermal comfort, carbon emissions, grid services, and indoor air quality. In this context, conventional rule-based control approaches are proving sub-optimal, mostly heuristic, and inadequate. The model-free and self learning nature of RL appears promising and attractive as it may address the scalability issues associated with advanced control approaches. However, it suffers from long training times and unstable control behavior during the early stages of its learning process, which makes it unsuitable to be applied directly to buildings. This paper addresses these issues using an inverse reinforcement learning approach (IRL), a technique utilized to learn the objective of a controller agent which is considered an expert in its respective domain. Here, we consider a rule-based control as the expert demonstrator. IRL is different from a direct imitation (i.e., direct mapping of states to actions) of control actions as it tries to find the underlying intent of an expert's policy, providing the controller with a better-generalized policy for unseen states or environments with slightly different dynamics. This approach propels the RL controller's policy to levels similar to or better than that of a rule-based policy before it starts learning by interacting with the building. This makes RL for building energy management applications more practical as it prevents the erratic and exploratory behavior in the initial training period, simultaneously speeding up the learning process when compared to applying an untrained RL agent directly to a building environment.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number112941
Number of pages14
JournalEnergy and Buildings
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier B.V.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-84932


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Building controls
  • Inverse reinforcement learning
  • Practical reinforcement learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Inverse Reinforcement Learning Control for Building Energy Management'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this