The Department of Energy has 17 national laboratories that are widely acknowledged to be cornerstones to scientific and engineering excellence worldwide. Not only are these research facilities advancing the U.S. government to excel in energy innovation, but some of the leaders in industry utilize the capabilities and research of the national labs because they are simply too risky and too expensive for a single private firm. Additionally, the national labs are providing quality public, non-biased cutting-edge research, as well as standardized methodologies, that are moving the needle for many industries in building energy efficiency.
The Building Technologies Office (BTO) works closely with researchers in the public and private sector, but we have a unique relationship with the national laboratories. Together, BTO and the national labs have many leading experts in the field that combined with the facilities and capabilities at the national labs are critical in supporting BTO’s goals.
BTO works with multiple national labs across their portfolio of programs and technology areas, though we are going to focus on BTO’s Emerging Technologies portfolio in this article. For example, FLEXLAB at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) was the first test bed in the world to evaluate the energy efficiency of major building systems, as an integrated system, under real-world conditions. This facility is advancing testing and verification of building efficiency technologies, both through its modeling capabilities and physical validation. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) not only has an experienced team of scientists working in their building equipment group, but also has extensive experimental facilities and advanced hardware based design models. The building energy modeling (BEM) expertise at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) continues to develop, support, and enhance DOE’s state-of-the-art BEM engine, EnergyPlus, and software development kit, OpenStudio. Now, the list could go on about the different facilities and abilities across the laboratories, but let’s focus on one example in a fast-moving industry that is a central player in the Emerging Technologies program.
Connected Lighting Test Bed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
Light-emitting diodes, also known as LEDs, interact with sensors, microcomputers and other components to offer a long list of potential applications as part of an emerging field called connected lighting. A new research facility has been established in Portland, Oregon, to study and advance these smart, energy-efficient lighting systems. Managed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for BTO, the Connected Lighting Test Bed is a large warehouse space filled with a variety of lights, cables, controllers and computers. PNNL scientists there conduct independent research to better understand and improve new connected lighting systems, increase visibility and transparency on key performance characteristics and new feature capabilities, and create tight information feedback loops with the broader research community.
Study results from the test bed are publically available online, which helps speed the learning curve for researchers, lighting manufacturers, building owners, and other potential connected lighting stakeholders. Manufacturers, on the other hand, typically keep test results of their products private and don't always use uniform test methods. The independent data collected is openly shared with manufacturers, technology developers, and industry standards organizations.
Lighting and networking engineers evaluate connected lighting systems that are either already on the market or still under development. To test indoor lights, the group uses a drop-down ceiling that can be raised and lowered with the flip of a switch so staff can easily swap out components and change circuits. They have also wall-mounted connected outdoor streetlights that are equipped with sensors and controls.
The test bed's primary goal is to conduct research on and to evaluate energy use in connected lighting systems. The way connected lighting energy data is collected, formatted, and retrieved is not currently standardized. Additionally, the accuracy of reported energy consumption, and which system components are responsible for it, is often unclear. To alleviate these issues, test bed researchers are developing reliable methods to evaluate connected lighting systems' ability to accurately report their own energy consumption. Scientists are also investigating cybersecurity risks and interoperability challenges with connected lighting as other main areas of research.
Looking to the Future
BTO is utilizing this unique partnership with the national labs as it focuses on a growing area of interest in the energy space, what we at BTO are calling Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEB). BTO is conducting GEB research to help bring connectedness—and the related energy savings—across the entire buildings sector, including connected lighting. Through the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC), a strategic partnership between DOE and the national laboratories to modernize the nation’s grid, BTO and national labs are already working on GEB projects across America such as sensing and measurement, transactive controls, interoperability and cybersecurity to advance the capabilities of the U.S. grid and the energy efficient building stock for American consumers and businesses.