The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $61 million from its Connected Communities funding opportunity announcement for 10 projects that will demonstrate how energy efficient and grid-interactive technologies can transform homes and workplaces into connected communities.

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America’s 129 million buildings use 40% of the nation’s energy and 75% of its electricity, which contributes to 35% of the nation’s annual carbon emissions that drive the climate crisis. As renewable power joins the grid at a record clip and buildings become more energy efficient, those emissions fall, but the variability of renewable power requires grid operators to employ new approaches to manage balancing electricity demand with variable renewable supply.

Connected communities of grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) integrate with distributed energy resources and leverage the greatest advancements in digital communications and building science by using smart controls, sensors, and analytics to “talk” to the grid, one another, and almost everything else that plugs into them. Through advanced analytics, the comfort and needs of building occupants can be optimized while supporting grid needs so the amount of energy buildings require during the costliest periods of peak energy demand is reduced. This lowers utility bills and reduces grid system costs.

DOE selected 10 demonstration projects from the Connected Communities funding opportunity announcement to accelerate the technology development, commercialization, and deployment of GEB solutions across a wider range of climates, geographies, building types, and business models than ever before. These projects include partnerships with a range of organizations including device manufacturers, utilities, governments, homebuilders, and commercial building owners. DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will facilitate shared learning across the project teams and key stakeholders and provide technical assistance with common challenges.

The selectees are:

IBACOS Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 3.8 MW of flexible load to serve grid needs
  • Expected Energy Savings: Estimated 20% savings compared to baseline energy performance
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Within Duke Energy’s North Carolina utility service area

IBACOS Inc. will work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tierra Resource Consultants, Energy and Environmental Economics Inc., Meritage Homes, Duke Energy, Energy Hub and Elevation Home Energy Solutions to deliver 3.8 MWs of aggregated flexible load from a comprehensive mix of distributed energy resources (DERs) deployed in 1,000 residential dwellings including new and existing single-family and multifamily owner-occupied and rental properties in Duke Energy’s North Carolina service area. This project implements key energy-efficiency upgrades for existing properties and will explore the capabilities of a connected network of DER technologies to deliver flexible distributed capacity at scale. The data collected from this project, including occupant experience data, will provide real-world insight on the aggregated grid impacts across a large service area.

Spokane Edo LLC of Seattle, Washington

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 1-2.25 MW flexible load
  • Expected Energy Savings: Up to 900 MW hours per year in energy savings
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Spokane, Washington

Spokane Edo LLC will work with Avista Utilities, McKinstry, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Urbanova to upgrade up to 125 existing residential and commercial buildings. The team will implement energy-efficiency measures and DERs across a variety of Spokane’s residential and commercial buildings to provide up to 2.25 MW of flexible load and grid benefits. Specifically, the project will demonstrate non-wire alternatives in its retrofits, thereby avoiding major capital investments in distribution infrastructure by creating virtual power plants from existing buildings. The project recruitment will be focused on equity across all customer demographics, including highly impacted and vulnerable populations in Spokane’s Opportunity Zones.

The Ohio State University of Columbus, Ohio

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: More than 2 MW flexible load a peak
  • Expected Energy Savings: 35% energy reduction compared to 2017 baseline
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Columbus, Ohio

Ohio State will work with ENGIE North America Inc., National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the University of California – Berkeley to demonstrate novel GEB capabilities across 20 diverse campus buildings. Leveraging an existing mature connected campus, this project team will explore ancillary grid services across its university campus. The project will demonstrate a cybersecure predictive control of buildings and DERs to provide important but overlooked grid services like frequency regulation, synchronized reserve, and energy and capacity markets participation. Given the mature existing connected campus technologies, this project will have the opportunity to explore data privacy and cybersecurity plans, business models for institutional energy management, and occupant comfort across a range of building types and DER assets.

Open Market ESCO Limited Liability Company of Boston, Massachusetts

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 1.2 MW (4 hour) to 4 MW (30 min.) building flexible load
  • Expected Energy Savings: 30% energy reduction
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Lowell, Massachusetts

Open Market ESCO LLC will work with Fraunhofer USA Inc., Cpower, Clean Energy Group, Logical Buildings, Sparhawk Group, SunRun, and Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development to implement energy saving and flexible technologies across 2,000 homes. The project seeks to demonstrate the financeable pathways for existing affordable multifamily housing to become grid-interactive efficient buildings. This project will enroll up to 20 low-moderate apartment communities to strategically deploy and implement efficiency, demand flexibility, renewable generation, and energy storage. The project team plans to focus on energy equity and will demonstrate pathways for bringing the energy savings, resilience, comfort, and environmental benefits to these underserved communities.

Portland General Electric of Portland, Oregon

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 1.4 MW of flexible loads
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Portland, Oregon

Portland General Electric of Portland, Oregon will work with Energy Trust of Oregon, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Community Energy Project, National Energy Renewable Laboratory, and Open Systems International Inc. to retrofit more than 500 buildings in North Portland’s Overlook and Arbor Lodge neighborhoods. This project builds on a solid foundation of Portland General Electric’s Smart Grid Testbed, to demonstrate 1.4 MW of flexible loads, reduce the energy burden of low-income residents, and explore new ways to reach historically underserved communities. The project aims to utilize various energy-efficiency measures and connected devices, including smart thermostats and water heaters, and PGE’s Advanced Distribution and DER Management Systems. Through its previous testbed success, this project team anticipates high levels of participation in and awareness of their flexible load programs, and strong community engagement and adoption.

SunPower Corp. of San Jose, California

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 200-700 kW
  • Expected Energy Savings: 38-57% improvement in efficiency
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Menifee, California

SunPower Corp. of San Jose, California will work with KB Home, the University of California – Irvine, Schneider Electric, and Southern California Edison to develop two new home communities including more than 230 homes. This project team will develop two testbeds with state-of-the-art new residential buildings that meet DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Homes criteria. Each all-electric community will implement photovoltaic systems and home energy management systems, however the two communities will compare benefits of community level versus residential level energy storage batteries, while providing grid services to the local utility. This project may be the blueprint to follow for building new decarbonized homes of the future.

Post Road Foundation of Oakland, California

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 1.1 - 2.5 MW for up to 3 hours
  • Expected Energy Savings: 16% from efficiency measures
  • Planned Location of Buildings: New Hampshire, Maine

Post Road Foundation will work with New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Efficiency Maine Trust, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Knowledge Problem, LLC. to deploy a Transactive Energy Service System (TESS) platform that enables grid-interactive control through two-way communication between DERs and a local energy market. The project will test TESS in three rural communities in New Hampshire and Maine, each consisting of 100 to 250 single-family homes, small commercial buildings, and small industrial customers. The team expects that TESS will be able to do the following:

  1. Facilitate more effective use of distribution systems through load flexibility, with applications such as peak load management.
  2. Reveal the financial value of DER deployment on a distribution system.
  3. Lower financial and engineering hurdles to beneficial electrification.

Slipstream Group Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 216 kW of flexible load
  • Expected Energy Savings: 39% total energy savings
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Madison, Wisconsin

Slipstream Group Inc., in partnership with Madison Gas and Electric, the City of Madison, Rocky Mountain Institute, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and bluEvolution, will convert approximately 15 facilities in Madison, Wisconsin, to GEBs and add nearby electric vehicle charging. As these improvements demonstrate reliable and cost-effective efficiency and demand flexibility improvements, the project will expand to additional privately owned buildings, providing a scalable business model for utilities to install demand flexibility and energy-efficiency upgrades across multiple building sizes in the public and private sectors. The project will also deliver a GEB toolkit with integrated financing options to address opportunities in public and private buildings across multiple sizes and use cases.

PacifiCorp doing business as Rocky Mountain Power of Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: Over 8 MW flexible load
  • Expected Energy Savings: 30% energy savings compared to typical buildings
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Herriman, Salt Lake City, and North Logan, Utah

PacifiCorp of Portland, Oregon, will work with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Utah State University, Wasatch Energy Group, GIV Group, Utah Transit Authority, Packsize International, Open Systems International, and Sonnen to implement a utility-managed DER control program that integrates diverse building types with a range of flexible loads to optimize grid services and improve building energy efficiency. The team identified a diverse but representative set of buildings that range from a large suburban apartment complex, downtown complex of mixed-use retail and apartments, university laboratory and office building with a microgrid, a mass transit transportation center, manufacturing building, and residential home. These buildings are in various stages of development with some in operation, some currently under construction, and others where the team can influence the design. The buildings are all-electric and will have advanced energy-efficiency technologies with efficient heat pump-based HVAC (both central and mini-splits) and domestic hot water, adaptive building envelope, and advanced lighting achieving a minimum of 30% energy efficiency compared to the baseline of typical buildings.

Electric Power Research Institute Inc. of Palo Alto, California

  • Scale of Demand Flexibility: 2.6 MW flexible load
  • Expected Energy Savings: 30% energy savings
  • Planned Location of Buildings: Proposed for New York City, New York; Seattle, Washington; and San Diego, California

Electric Power Research Institute Inc. will work with Gas Technology Institute, Seattle City Light, Community Roots Housing, Vistar Energy, and Sentient Buildings to transform multifamily buildings in multifamily disadvantaged communities into Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings. The project team will retrofit affordable housing communities in three geographically dispersed cities – New York, Seattle, and San Diego -- with a total of over 2,000 dwellings. By implementing efficiency, flexibility, storage, and distributed generation the project team will demonstrate different decarbonization pathways, reduce energy cost burden, improve system resilience, and provide distribution and bulk grid services.