New Lab Tests Building Efficiency

BERKELEY — A new lab in California opened by the Department of Energy (DOE) will test building efficiency using real-world simulations and advanced technologies.

DOE established the FLEXLAB at Berkeley National Laboratory on July 10. The facility’s test beds can examine HVAC, lighting, windows, building envelope, control systems and plug loads in any combination. The lab gives building owners and tenants the ability to test alternatives, perform cost-benefit analyses, and explore other building efficiencies before construction or retrofitting.

“In the United States, nearly 40 percent of all energy and over two-thirds of all electricity consumed goes to operate commercial, industrial and residential buildings,” DOE deputy secretary Daniel Poneman said in a statement. “To power these buildings, Americans spend more than $400 billion every year. By making buildings more energy efficient, we can save money by saving energy and drive the nation to our low-carbon future.”

The first business to try out the new lab is biotech company Genentech, which develops and manufactures medicines. The company will partner with FLEXLAB to test systems for its new headquarters in San Francisco.

“At Genentech, we are constantly innovating and following the science, so we were excited to apply this approach to energy efficiency and building optimization,” Carla Boragno, Genentech vice president for site services said in a statement. “FLEXLAB represents a new type of experiment for us, and presents the opportunity to be first-in-class in another area of innovation. We are proud to be the leading client of FLEXLAB.”

PG&E, a California gas and utilities company, is next in line to use the facility to test the next generation of technologies – those that focus on whole building systems – for emerging technologies incentive programs. The company is working with an advisory committee to identify system-scale efficiency improvements that make best sense for most businesses. It will test alternatives in FLEXLAB, starting with innovations in building envelopes, lighting and shading.

“Compared to the usual ‘widget’ approach of offering incentives for single pieces of equipment, utilities are finding the next generation of energy efficiency technology – which includes single or multiple integrated building systems – is an order of magnitude more complex. FLEXLAB will help them get a handle on this,” said FLEXLAB Executive Manager Cindy Regnier. “And that opens the door to new and renovated buildings that are dramatically more energy efficient.”