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ARPA-E Funds Berkeley Lab Projects on Buildings, Windows, and the Electric Grid

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers have received two project awards from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects—Energy) program, and will participate in a third awarded to the University of California, Berkeley. One project will produce three-dimensional maps of commercial buildings, another will develop low-cost thermal window coatings, and a third will measure distribution lines on the
electric grid.

Three-dimensional Maps Improve and Reduce Costs for Building Simulation

Prototype of the building mapping instrument package

Prototype of the building mapping instrument package

Prototype of the building mapping instrument package

Computer building simulations help architects and engineers design more energy-efficient buildings by identifying how a building is failing and what maintenance staff can do to tune up its energy-consuming systems. They can also suggest equipment upgrades for better energy performance and ensure that improvements are installed correctly and are delivering the expected energy savings.

"However, to do this, and do it in a lot of buildings," says Philip Haves, leader of the Simulation Research Group at Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), "we need better, cheaper, faster ways to generate computer models of the buildings we want to improve."

To do that, Haves will lead a project to develop sensing and computer hardware for generating physical and thermal maps of building interiors. The goal of the project, Rapid Automated Modeling and Simulation of Existing Buildings for Energy Efficiency, is to reduce the energy consumption of existing commercial buildings through computer simulation of building energy use. The team will produce three-dimensional indoor maps of buildings using backpack-mounted cameras and laser scanners.

Users walk through the building to gather data and video

Users walk through the building to gather data and video

Users walk through the building to gather data and video

A person wearing the instrument package will walk through the building to make a video of the building's interior and exterior, and a computer will then turn this video into a digital model of the building. Haves believes this technology can reduce the cost of building simulation by 30 to 40 percent and reduce the time it takes to develop a building model.

The Berkeley Lab team is collaborating with Professor Avideh Zakhor, who leads the Video and Image Processing Lab in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and Oliver Baumann of Ebert & Baumann Consulting Engineers in Washington, D.C. The image-processing techniques and the prototype backpack were developed by
Zakhor's group.

The project will receive up to $1.9 million in funding.

Controlling Light and Heat Through Windows With Electrochromic Technology

The goal of the Berkeley Lab Molecular Foundry project is to develop low-cost coatings that control how light and heat enter buildings through windows. Delia Milliron, Molecular Foundry Deputy Director, will lead the research to develop a new electrochromic window coating technology that can respond to changing weather conditions by regulating the visible light and heat entering a building through its windows, reducing energy usage. The Molecular Foundry team will work with the EETD Windows R&D team, headed by Stephen Selkowitz, and with Heliotrope Technologies.

By separately tuning the incoming infrared (heat) and visible (light) components, this technology will improve building energy efficiency by reducing the need for air conditioning and electric lighting, and enhance occupant comfort by managing the visible light that enters. The project's goal is to apply these coatings to windows using inexpensive techniques similar to spray-painting a car.

The Molecular Foundry will receive up to $3 million in ARPA-E funding for this project.

Advanced Monitoring for the Electric Grid's Distribution System

The California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) at the University of California, Berkeley, is receiving ARPA-E funding to develop a device to monitor and measure electric power data from the grid's distribution system. Alexandra von Meier, Co-Director in CIEE's Electric Grid program area, is the project's principal investigator. She will be joined by
EETD's Sila Kiliccote and David Watson, who will model and measure distribution lines on the electric grid.

"What's innovative about this work," says Watson, "is that while there are measurements on transmission lines, no one has been making measurements on distribution lines, where renewable resources are being added. This research will help enable more renewable power to be integrated with the grid, and it will lead to a more stable grid, less affected by the intermittency of renewable power."

This project will receive up to $4 million in ARPA-E funding.

—Allan Chen

Additional information:

Berkeley Lab press release

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