nrel building proving ground foa

Grid-interactive Buildings and Connected Communities. Courtesy of NREL.

At the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), we are constantly working on advanced technologies to improve the energy efficiency of America’s homes, businesses, and industries. To advance this goal, we must ensure the technologies we develop work as well in the real world as they do in controlled laboratory settings. For this reason, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) recently launched new initiatives focused on technology field validation, the testing of near-commercial-ready technologies in real-world conditions.

As a central element of our field validation strategy, EERE recently issued a competitive funding opportunity called “Building Technologies Proving Ground—Public Sector Field Validation.” The objective of the Proving Ground funding is to develop and verify the performance of innovative technologies that make buildings more efficient and also provide flexibility and resilience services to the energy system.

The Proving Ground funding opportunity will invest up to $10 million in projects led by state, local, or tribal governments. Funded projects will have the potential to enhance the energy productivity of commercial, public or multi-family buildings, develop new value streams for building owners, and provide end-use flexibility to help balance the distribution grid. Projects under this initiative will be funded by EERE’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) and administered in partnership with EERE’s Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs (WIP) Office’s State Energy Program.

Field validation is essential to the research and development (R&D) process for several reasons. First, it reveals how new technology integrates with traditional building technologies and interacts with systems that our computer models cannot fully simulate. These real-world observations help us analyze a given technology’s performance and fine-tune its application. Second, field validation lets us collect and share standardized datasets with researchers, technology providers, industry partners, and other end-users, which gives them critical information (e.g., energy use, cost savings, interoperability, durability, maintenance, and other benefits) to decide whether to move forward or go back to the drawing board. Finally, it helps EERE align our R&D priorities with the needs of building occupants.

Over the past several months, EERE has found new ways to expand building-sector field validation opportunities. Through our partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials, we are actively engaging state energy offices and local governments interested in partnering with EERE and DOE’s National Laboratories to conduct field tests of EERE-supported technologies. For example, WIP and BTO are targeting state and local public buildings to test three promising energy-saving technologies: 1) a building energy-management software system for smaller office buildings (50,000 to 100,000 square feet), 2) thin triple-pane windows, and 3) a microinjection spray foam insulation system. Meanwhile, EERE’s Federal Energy Management program is exploring similar field validation opportunities with our federal partners.

A related technology-focused collaboration is BTO’s Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings Initiative. Through this initiative, we are developing technologies to enable buildings to serve as reliable grid assets that operate dynamically to enhance efficiency, flexibility, and resilience of the energy system. In February 2020, EERE announced our intent to issue a FOA entitled “Connected Communities.” This FOA would transform existing partnerships between DOE, electric utilities, and builders into an extensive fleet of “Smart Neighborhood” pilots, which test grid-interactive building technologies in real homes with real occupants. These projects integrate energy storage, energy efficiency, and other distributed-energy resources with connected, labor-saving appliances and other features that enhance energy flexibility and improve household energy efficiency, without sacrificing occupant productivity and comfort.

Taken together, these efforts demonstrate DOE’s commitment to accelerating the adoption of advanced building technologies through rigorous field validation. Our vision is to develop technologies that not only improve energy efficiency, but also provide valuable services to the U.S. energy system, with a focus on improving quality of life for the end-user—America’s families and businesses. By advancing cutting-edge, field-tested building technologies, we can support a secure energy system and prosperous energy future for all.

Alex Fitzsimmons
Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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