Berkeley Lab awarded $15.9 million for Net-Zero Energy Buildings User Facility

December 10, 2009

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will build and operate a new National User Facility for Net-Zero Energy Buildings using a competitively selected award of $15.9 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy.

This facility will contain a set of test beds for building systems integration designed to address key technical challenges for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy solicited research applications from eligible national laboratories nationwide, which then underwent a thorough technical review process.

"This facility will serve a national audience--and need--in an aggressive pursuit of DOE's energy efficiency goals for widespread implementation of affordable net-zero energy buildings by 2030, " says Stephen Selkowitz, head of the Building Technologies Department of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

Berkeley Lab researchers will work with a broad base of users in the building design and construction communities, as well as manufacturers, building owners and operators, and the academic community, Selkowitz explains. "We will also take maximum advantage of Berkeley Lab's proximity to Silicon Valley and the growing interest in 'Greentech' innovation and investment to draw on experts there, as well as our location in a state that leads the country in applying research and advanced technology, supported by aggressive policies, toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions," he adds.

Buildings account for more than 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States. Net-zero energy buildings (N-ZEB) generate as much energy as they use on an annual basis through highly aggressive energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation, making them a key pathway to address and reduce these climate-altering emissions. The new laboratory facilities will help researchers develop, test and validate the technologies, systems and design approaches that will allow N-ZEB to be built and operated at an affordable cost.

A DOE National User Facility is a lab equipped with one-of-a-kind instruments and facilities at Department of Energy national laboratories. Researchers from universities, private industry, and other government labs from the United States and around the world can perform research at these facilities to address critical national needs. Examples at Berkeley Lab include the Advanced Light Source, the Molecular Foundry, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

In proposing for the N-ZEB award, Berkeley Lab teamed with numerous organizations, including 21 industry partners, three utilities, eight universities, a non-profit, and three public agencies, all of whom indicated their support and interest in using the facility. Major partners include the University of California, Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, HOK, Flack + Kurtz, Philips Research, Johnson Controls, Lutron, Siemens, the California Energy Commission, and the U.S. General Services Administration.

Several Testbeds Planned

The new N-ZEB facility will consist of a series of unique energy-efficient building systems testbeds to be located in new and existing buildings on the Lab. Researchers will be able to change out prototype building systems such as windows, lights, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), energy control systems, roofs, and skylights. The basic idea is to conduct initial measurements of energy use and environmental conditions to understand how the systems perform, and then to redesign and optimize their capabilities and performance.

The building systems integration testbed will consist of several large side-by-side research areas. Each area can employ a range of diverse and changeable HVAC systems, lighting, on-site power and process-load solutions, as well as the building's "envelope" of windows, walls, floors and related fixtures, for real time performance comparisons under dynamic climate conditions.

Other separate testbeds will be constructed for specific buildings subsystems such as lighting systems and controls, and window and façade systems. One testbed will be devoted to the topic of advanced sensor networks and building energy controls, and the communications protocols that link optimized building performance to smart grid initiatives. Final details of the new facilities will be worked out with Department of Energy staff to meet cost targets and schedule deadlines.

Hardware and Software R&D To Be Conducted

The N-ZEB User Facility will be used by scientists to combine a new generation of innovative building materials with components to create high-performance HVAC, controls, lighting, windows, and building envelope sub-systems and systems, as well as on-site power systems.

The research teams then will work to integrate these separate building systems into N-ZEB optimized whole-building solutions with the goal of achieving very aggressive energy, demand, carbon and operating cost savings, as well as improved occupant comfort and health. Measured results from physical testing will be enhanced and extended with the use of powerful building simulation tools.

"Berkeley Lab building science researchers are leaders in understanding and quantifying the opportunities to achieve large energy savings, while improving indoor environmental quality at the same time," Selkowitz says. "In addition to research on hardware technology, we will conduct R&D to improve design and simulation tools to ensure that the process of designing, constructing and operating the building actually results in buildings with measured net-zero energy performance."

"The User Facility will help building industry component and system suppliers to create cost-effective, integrated building systems that deliver the performance required by net-zero energy buildings," adds Mary Ann Piette, deputy head of the Building Technologies Department. "For the owner-designer-specifier community, it will demonstrate and verify that these systems deliver the required energy performance."

Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division has more than 200 building science staff who conduct research and engage practitioners in the buildings industry with technologies and operating practices to improve energy performance as well as occupant comfort, health and satisfaction.

It has partnered with the building industry since 1976, and has a long track record of successful collaborations in the areas of advanced technologies, building and appliance standards, and software tools for designers and operators. Lab researchers are actively engaged in a range of demonstration projects with building owners as well as with public and private partners in the analysis and formulation of energy policies that promote adoption of innovative building solutions.

"This funding is an exciting boost to a program that is already growing, and we look forward to working with the buildings industry to advance the knowledge and understanding of low-energy building systems," Piette says.
Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. The Lab conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE's Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at

For more information about buildings research at Berkeley Lab: and

The U.S. Department of Energy's Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative:

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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