Buildings can provide dynamic solutions to many energy challenges. For several years, our Building Technologies Office’s (BTO’s) Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEB) Initiative has worked across the Department of Energy (DOE) and with experts in the buildings and energy industries to enhance the flexibility, resiliency, and efficiency of not just buildings, but of the entire power system. Now, in collaboration with DOE’s Offices of Electricity, Solar Energy, and Vehicles, and DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, BTO is releasing the Connected Communities Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which we first described in a Notice of Intent and shaped from responses to a Request for Information.
In today’s announcement, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette underscored how essential our Nations’ nearly 125 million homes and commercial buildings are to our energy destinies, considering they use more collective energy than our transportation or industrial sectors do today. “As our Nation’s energy system continues to undergo dramatic transformations, there is a growing need for solutions that best integrate and optimize all our energy resources on the grid to provide Americans with the most reliable and affordable electricity possible. With today’s announcement, DOE will broaden its capability to evaluate and demonstrate the growing flexibility of one such solution–smart, grid-interactive efficient buildings–to best serve the needs of building occupants and the grid while reducing energy consumption overall.”
With funding up to $65 million, DOE aims to expand its existing set of connected communities nationwide to demonstrate how groups of buildings, and the distributed energy resources (DERs) to which they connect, can reliably and affordably cooperate to collectively manage and optimize their energy performance—all while maintaining or even improving occupant comfort. The Connected Communities FOA highlights the opportunity to work with different building types, and in more climates and contexts, than ever before: in new buildings or existing ones–and not only in neighborhoods, but perhaps in mixed-used developments, across healthcare campuses or different utility territories, in downtowns and more.
These communities will demonstrate the potential capabilities of advanced buildings already being tested across a research portfolio that has grown to nearly 60 projects, along with optimization of DERs such as community solar, battery and thermal storage, and electric vehicle (EV) charging. We’re already learning how well GEBs work from the first DOE-supported connected community established in Hoover, Alabama at Reynolds Landing. As a recent report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows, the community is energy efficient, using 44% less energy than comparable all-electric communities and 34% less power demand during winter peak hours, leading to lower utility bills for families while in higher-functioning houses. The community has shown its resilience by islanding itself from the grid successfully during outages and “flexed its flexibility” to provide between 100 and 200 kW of grid services on-demand.
Despite this early success, we still have a lot to learn. By establishing more connected communities, we expect to learn more about the interaction between energy efficiency and demand flexibility measures, and how GEBs improve energy affordability and grid reliability while offering environmental and community benefits. We want to demonstrate how DERs can contribute to overall building load management, grid services, and reduced cost of DER ownership and operation even further.
In addition, the Connected Communities FOA will provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate how demand flexibility and DER integration across buildings can be coordinated, financed, shared, operated, and maintained. To share the lessons learned and document the success of new approaches, DOE will publicly disseminate case studies on each project, along with resources and tools, which will help other utilities, developers, and builders consider similar investments.
Field validation exercises like the Connected Communities FOA and our Building Technologies Proving Ground FOA announced earlier this year are essential to our research and development (R&D) process at DOE, as I have said in previous blogs. Field validation reveals how new technology interacts and integrates with the “real world,” a core focus of EERE. It provides us with critical information on market scalability and occupant comfort and needs, de-risking new technologies so companies are more empowered to adopt our early-stage R&D faster with greater security.
This FOA takes advantage of years of work across a number of different program offices, building on SETO’s work on solar PV system design and operations optimization; BTO’s advances in their Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEB) Initiative; VTO’s expansion of its EV Community Partnerships projects, and OE’s understanding of how next-generation technologies, tools and strategic partnerships can improve the security, reliability, and resilience of the nation’s grid to bring together the key, yet varied, stakeholders needed to tackle the challenging task of modernizing our grid.
In closing, remember that these connected communities are more than just science experiments. They are even more than just proving grounds for novel technologies. This FOA will show all parties involved in the establishment of connected communities, from developers to utilities, that GEBs can work anywhere—and that they, too, can build them in their own communities.
Teams of broad partners are necessary to undertake this innovative and ambitious endeavor. To learn more about this FOA, its teaming partner list, and to submit a concept paper, please visit EERE Exchange. We look forward to partnering with you!
 There are 119.5 million residential housing units (US EIA 2019 AEO Res & Com Tables) and 5.6 million commercial buildings (US EIA CBECS 2012) in the United States for a total of 125.1 million residential and commercial buildings.
 39% of total energy consumption in the U.S. comes from residential & commercial buildings; 32% comes from industrial buildings, and 28% comes from the transportation sector (EIA Monthly Energy Review, August 2020)