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Berkeley Lab Opens First Phase of FLEXLAB, a New Laboratory for Energy-Efficient Buildings

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) recently opened the first two testbeds of FLEXLAB, the Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings. FLEXLAB is a set of testbeds for studying and demonstrating energy-efficient building technologies. Constructed within an existing building, they will allow Berkeley Lab researchers and their partners to study and demonstrate energy-efficient lighting systems and to collaborate in the design of the next generation of energy-efficient, automatically monitored and controlled buildings.

Photo of Lighting and Plug Load Test Bed

The Lighting and Plug Load Test Bed.

The Lighting and Plug Load Test Bed.

The interior testbeds are the Lighting and Plug Load Testbed and the Virtual Design Testbed. Each is reconfigurable, and can be divided into zones and outfitted as offices. This fall, researchers in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) held a series of workshops to acquaint potential users with FLEXLAB, which will eventually include additional testbeds in a new outdoor facility. Participants included a broad cross-section of industry, utilities, the U.S. Department of Energy, state and local governments, manufacturers, and the architectural and engineering design community.

"These new testbeds will provide the building industry and the architecture and engineering community with a heavily instrumented facility for developing and validating the performance of new energy-efficient technologies," said Cindy Regnier, the Technical Manager of the FLEXLAB facility. "They will also help them develop integrated building system solutions for reducing energy and resource use and maximizing human comfort in buildings."

The Interior Testbeds Are Ready for Use

The Lighting and Plug Loads Testbed is a densely instrumented living laboratory that can be used to test real-life office environments, allowing for a wide variety of control strategies, ranging from fully automated control to manual control by occupants.

Users can monitor every change in the power use and lighting conditions of the testbed, continuously and in real-time. Every duplex power outlet is individually monitored and can be turned on or off by occupants or be programmed for other controls, such as those that respond to occupancy.

In the Virtual Design Testbed, users will design and develop advanced energy-efficient buildings in a collaborative setting. Participants present in the room, as well as those joining meetings remotely, will put up and modify ideas, share data, and develop designs collaboratively, using building design and simulation tools such as the recently released Simergy tool, which provides a graphical user interface to EnergyPlus. This testbed will be used to help develop interoperable software tools used throughout the building lifecycle from building design through operations.

New Exterior Testbed Construction Is Next

Outside this building, construction teams have begun building four testbeds. When complete, EETD researchers and their public- and private-sector research partners will be able to swap out building components and systems, and then measure, analyze, and improve their performance under real conditions (see rendering). FLEXLAB's exterior facility will be completed late in 2013. The interior and exterior testbeds are comprised of 9,000 square feet of floor space, and are funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) through the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the new exterior facility, each testbed will be reconfigurable—depending on the research plan, users will be able replace windows, walls, access floor, lighting, HVAC systems, and other elements with prototypes for testing. The interior spaces will be reconfigurable—they can be divided into zones and outfitted as offices.

One testbed can be rotated to different orientations with respect to the sun, to adjust the structure's solar exposure as desired. 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 designed for two-story structures, with applications that include big-box retail environments. These modules will also test technologies such as skylights and clerestories.

Diverse instrumentation in the testbeds will allow users to remotely monitor and control a wide range of variables, from energy use to exterior weather to interior comfort conditions such as temperature, pressure, and humidity. Occupancy sensors, air-flow and room pressure measurements, lighting and glare, and thermal conditions are among the factors that the facility's instrumentation can monitor.

"To develop the extremely energy-efficient, comfort-maximizing buildings of the future," says Regnier, "building designers and developers are moving toward integrated systems, real-time monitoring of building conditions, and advanced control algorithms that optimize both energy use and interior conditions for maximum comfort."

"In this new facility," she continues, "we will have the fine level of data collection and analysis we need, along with the ability to adjust and configure every aspect of the test spaces to develop, field-test, and prove out new technologies, as well as to solve fundamental problems in design and operations that we need to move the building industry to a new level of consistent energy savings."

Total ARRA funding is 15.7 million dollars. Stantec Architecture is the architect of record, with mechanical and electrical engineering provided by Integral Group and structural engineering by Tipping Mar.

—Allan Chen

Additional information:

FLEXLAB website

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