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Construction on FLEXLAB Testbeds Moves Forward with Groundbreaking

At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the research environment for energy-efficient buildings is about to take a quantum leap forward, as construction of the Facility for Low-Energy eXperiments on Buildings (FLEXLAB) continues. In December 2012, Berkeley 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 exterior portion of FLEXLAB; following closely on the opening of FLEXLAB's interior space in November. After the groundbreaking, Berkeley Lab hosted an industry roundtable focusing on the facility's capabilities, industry research needs, and possibilities for collaborative research.

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

L-R: Don DePaolo, Assoc. Lab Director; Mark Chekal-Bain, Chief of Staff for Assemblymember Nancy Skinner; Robert Weisenmiller, Chairman, California Energy Comm.; Steven Chalk, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy; Horst Simon, Dep. Lab Director; Ashok Gadgil, Director, EETD

L-R: Don DePaolo, Assoc. Lab Director; Mark Chekal-Bain, Chief of Staff for Assemblymember Nancy Skinner; Robert Weisenmiller, Chairman, California Energy Comm.; Steven Chalk, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy; Horst Simon, Dep. Lab Director; Ashok Gadgil,
Director, EETD

L-R: Don DePaolo, Assoc. Lab Director; Mark Chekal-Bain, Chief of Staff for Assemblymember Nancy Skinner; Robert Weisenmiller, Chairman, CA Energy Comm.; Steven Chalk, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy; Horst Simon, Dep. Lab Director; Ashok Gadgil, Director, EETD

"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."

Construction teams are now building the four testbeds that collectively form FLEXLAB's exterior portion, just outside the building where two testbeds completed in November are beginning start up. When this construction is complete in early 2014, EETD researchers and their 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. Users will be able to replace windows, walls, access floor, lighting, HVAC systems, and other elements with prototypes for testing. The interior spaces are reconfigurable as well, and can be divided into zones and outfitted as offices.

The new, exterior portion of FLEXLAB will host four new testbeds

The new, exterior portion of FLEXLAB will host four new testbeds.

The new, exterior portion of FLEXLAB will host four new testbeds.

The testbeds feature some unique designs. For example, one can be rotated to any orientation with respect to the sun and even reset its position every 60 seconds to align with solar orientation, to measure how sun position affects energy use and interior conditions. A double-height testbed is designed to test technologies used in two-story structures, with applications that include big-box retail environments. Normally, the test spaces will be unoccupied, but they can be used to test thermal and visual comfort and assess the interface with control systems.

Having this flexibility at their disposal will enable researchers and developers to accelerate the development and deployment of controls and technologies for retrofit and new construction. It will also enable researchers to benchmark energy use of innovative solutions against standard building practices. Together, the six interior and exterior testbeds will constitute more than 9,000 square feet of floorspace. The facility is funded with $15.9 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, through the U.S. Department of Energy.

FLEXLAB also 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 the groundbreaking were representatives from Philips Lighting and Daikin, early research partners; PG&E; and San Jose Prospect, an early deployment partner. 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.

—Allan Chen

Additional information:

Berkeley Lab press release

FLEXLAB

The facility is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, through the U.S. Department of Energy.

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