Berkeley Lab Breaks Ground on Flexible Design Building to Test Low-energy Systems and Components

Rendering of the Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings.
Breaking ground on the new FLEXLAB facility
December 2012

This article was also published as a press release on the Berkeley Lab News Center website.

Today marks the start of a new era for research on energy-efficient buildings at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Lab leadership and distinguished guests from the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of California, utilities and the building industry broke ground on the start of construction for the Facility for Low-Energy eXperiments on Buildings (FLEXLAB).

"Our new FLEXLAB facility will open the doors to many new ideas on how we can reduce energy consumed by buildings. Today, buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions," says Ashok Gadgil, director of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD). "Finding new, advanced, building technologies should help us save up to 80 percent on new construction."

"FLEXLAB will be the most advanced heavily-instrumented facility for developing and validating the performance of new energy-efficient building controls and technologies in the U.S.," says Cindy Regnier, Technical Manager of the FLEXLAB facility. "By allowing scientists, the building industry, and the architecture and engineering community a chance to change out and combine building components to develop them as integrated systems, FLEXLAB will allow its users to develop low-energy-use building designs whose total energy savings will be greater than the additive savings of the individual components."

Joining Berkeley Lab Deputy Director Horst Simon for the groundbreaking were U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, Steven Chalk, and California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller, among others.

Construction teams will shortly begin building the four testbeds that collectively form the new exterior portion of FLEXLAB located outside an existing building at Berkeley Lab. (Two testbeds within an adjacent existing building were completed in November and are now in the start-up phase of their operation.)

When FLEXLAB is completed late in 2013, researchers in EETD, and its public and private sector research partners, will be able to swap out building components and systems in the modules, and measure, analyze and improve their performance under real world conditions. The facility will accelerate the development and deployment of controls and technologies for both retrofit and new construction applications and allow energy use of innovative solutions to be benchmarked against standard building practice. The six interior and exterior testbeds together will total more than 9,000 square feet of floorspace, and are funded with $15.9 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act through the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the new exterior facility, each module will be reconfigurable—depending on the research plan, users will be able to replace windows, walls, access floor, lighting, HVAC systems and other elements with prototypes for testing. The interior spaces will be reconfigurable as well, and can be divided into zones and outfitted as offices. The test spaces will normally be unoccupied, but can be utilized by people to test thermal and visual comfort and assess the interface with control systems.

One testbed can be rotated to any orientation with respect to the sun. It can reset its position every 60 seconds to align with solar orientation to measure how sun position impacts energy use and interior conditions.

Another double-height testbed is designed to test technologies utilized in two-story high structures, with applications that include big box retail environments. These modules will also test technologies such as skylights and roof glazings.

FLEXLAB will include one of the most extensive data acquisition and control capabilities ever used in a building test facility, allowing industry partners to remotely operate the facility and analyze performance data. Outdoor weather and solar conditions, occupancy sensors, airflow and room pressure measurements, lighting and glare, and thermal conditions are among the factors that the facility's instrumentation will be able to monitor.

Among the visitors participating in today's groundbreaking were representatives from Philips Lighting and Daikin as early research partners for FLEXLAB, as well as PG&E and San Jose Prospect, an early deployment partner.

After the groundbreaking ceremony, an industry roundtable was held focusing on FLEXLAB's capabilities, industry research needs, and the possibilities for collaborative research in the new facility.

Allan Chen

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