Funding Opportunity: Advanced Building Construction with Energy-Efficient Technologies and Practices

May 3, 2019

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Man in a hard hat standing on top of a building, holding an e-tablet, with a view at construction workers doing work below.

The Building Technologies Office (BTO) announced up to $33.5 million for early-stage research and development of advanced building construction techniques to reduce energy bills. The Advanced Building Construction with Energy-Efficient Technologies & Practices (ABC) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) aims to develop deep energy retrofit and new construction technologies that holistically tackle a combination of envelope, heating, cooling, water heating, and ventilation issues.

This FOA addresses three areas:

•    Topic 1 – Integrated Building Retrofits: Focuses on creating a more holistic approach that integrates several technologies and achieves more affordable, deep energy savings in existing buildings (e.g. light and durable highly insulated panels, combined heating and cooling, and hot water systems). Up to 75% energy reduction is sought for major building loads such a space heating and cooling, water heating, and ventilation.

•    Topic 2 – New Construction Technologies: Focuses on building design, construction, and installation (e.g., off-site manufacturing, robotics, digitization, automation, and improved modeling) to improve affordability, scalability, and performance of energy efficient building systems and methods. The topic seeks solutions that lead to construction of homes and buildings that are 50% more efficient compared to current code. This topic has a special emphasis to make mobile homes significantly more efficient while keeping the same initial cost.

•    Topic 3 – Advanced Technology Integration: Focuses on field validation of new innovative technologies and building practices, workforce training, and service delivery methods suited to regional and/or local needs, including those related to building stock, regional climates and grid characteristics.

An example of a 3D-printed concrete mold before its surface was machined.
An example of a 3D-printed concrete mold before its surface was machined. Read more about the project.
Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.

What challenges does the FOA address?

The United States has made significant progress in improving building energy efficiency over the last 30 to 40 years, but the demand for energy efficiency in buildings (beyond simple equipment upgrades like LEDs) remains low for a number of reasons:

•    There’s no one-stop shop for energy efficiency. The components that make up a building’s energy efficiency are often sold and installed by different entities and contractors, which can make the marketplace challenging to navigate – especially when consumers are used to satisfying their needs with a single purchase. After all, if you need shoes, you don’t have to buy the soles, laces, and linings from different companies and stores.

•    Improvements are hard to notice and evaluate. Most energy-saving measures (i.e. insulation) are invisible to building occupants, and the quality of an energy-efficiency purchase is exceptionally challenging to evaluate. This is due, in part, to a lack of expertise in energy assessments, installation, operations, and maintenance in the workforce.

•    Building construction, renovation and remodeling projects can be disruptive. Some efficiency measures can be invasive and cumbersome to install, especially when they are implemented in an existing building. As with retrofits, a host of different contractors come to the site and each perform their individual functions, ranging from digging and pouring the foundation to installing plumbing, windows, and electrical systems. This often means that construction projects exceed projected cost estimates and rarely finish on time (read more: McKinsey Global Institute "Reinventing Construction: A Route to Higher Productivity").

•    The construction industry is still ripe for the introduction of automation, robotics, and digitization. There is still a great opportunity for the construction industry to adopt the advanced technologies (e.g., robotics, vertical integrated IT solutions) that have propelled other industries forward. These innovations would improve the industry’s productivity and competitiveness and simultaneously tackle other building-related challenges, including energy efficiency, grid reliability, cybersecurity, and resiliency.

What do construction and manufacturing have to do with a building’s energy efficiency?

Construction choices and activities significantly impact the near- and long-term operational energy performance of buildings. Given the wide range of variables involved in both construction and renovations, many energy systems are improperly installed. Problems are frequently unnoticed until a system fails or the building performs poorly. Furthermore, it is difficult to determine which entity bears responsibility for improper installations. Improving construction and off-site manufacturing productivity will have direct, positive impacts on affordable energy-efficiency technologies that generate savings that can offset the cost of state-of-the-art energy-efficient products.

How to Apply

Apply to the funding opportunity.

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