Secretary Chu Announces Nearly $21 Million in Technical Assistance Projects to Improve Energy Use in Commercial Buildings
December 6, 2010

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced last week that 24 projects are receiving a total of $21 million in technical assistance to dramatically reduce the energy used in their commercial buildings.  This initiative, supported with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will connect commercial building owners and operators with multidisciplinary teams including researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national laboratories and private sector building experts. The teams will design, construct, measure and test low-energy building plans, and will help accelerate the deployment of cost-effective energy-saving measures in commercial buildings across the United States, according to the DOE.

“These Recovery Act projects are bringing together experts from our national laboratories and the private sector to help businesses and organizations reduce the energy they use in their facilities, saving them money on their energy bills and making them more competitive economically,” said Secretary Chu. “This initiative will also demonstrate to other commercial building operators that cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies exist today that will help lower the operating and energy costs of their buildings.”

Arlene Stewart, president of AZS Consulting and blogger for™, says while the DOE has always placed a large focus on residential projects, “It’s good that there is finally some dollars going into commercial projects, especially since those costs are more significant – and that commercial buildings are so diverse.”

Bill Yanek, executive director for the Glass Association of North America (GANA), echoes these sentiments.
"Over a number of years, GANA has worked and partnered with DOE's national laboratories on researching and demonstrating the impact of energy-efficient glass in commercial building energy efficiency. It is promising to see DOE continue and expand funding for these efforts,” he says.

Stewart adds that usage patterns vary a great deal, so “It’s entirely possible we’re going to see different strategies needed for different applications.”

Through DOE’s Commercial Building Partnerships, teams comprised of private sector technical experts and personnel from national laboratories will help guide projects to achieve 30 percent measured energy savings in existing buildings and 50 percent energy savings in new construction projects. About half of the two dozen projects focus on energy efficiency upgrades for existing buildings. The three-year projects will provide comprehensive business and technical case studies for broad publication, including actual energy performance data from the completed projects, to help spur wider adoption of energy-efficient building practices across the industry.

The projects are funded with a public/private cost-sharing agreement, where the building owners and operators contribute at least 20 percent.  Building owners and operators do not receive direct funding through the project, but instead get access to technical guidance to implement energy efficiency technologies throughout the design, construction and evaluation phases of their building and retrofit projects, according to the DOE. This expertise includes energy modeling and energy performance verification by laboratory researchers and private sector experts.

The selected building owners and operators benefit by learning about measures they can apply across their extensive building portfolios. The use of private sector consultants and National Laboratory experts helps ensure that the energy efficiency measures and lessons learned in the projects will be quickly adopted by the marketplace, the DOE adds.

Three DOE national laboratories—Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—will manage the effort and provide technical assistance for the selected projects.

Marylynn Placet, manager, Energy Policy and Planning Group and account manager, DOE Buildings Programs at PNNL, gave™ further details about the program.

“This program will enable PNNL to use the knowledge and skills developed over three decades of buildings energy efficiency research to help commercial building owners and operators take advantage of huge opportunities for energy savings -- and accelerate the widespread deployment of cost-effective, energy-saving measures in commercial buildings across the U.S.,” says Placet. “Buildings account for about 40 percent of our nation's energy use. That's more than 70 percent of U.S. electricity use and 55 percent of natural gas use, resulting in an overall share of 39 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.” 

The aggressive energy efficiency design goals for each project include reasonable returns on investment and must meet other business criteria established in collaboration with the partners, according to the DOE.
Each project will receive technical assistance valued at between $200,000 and $1.2 million, depending on the scope and nature of the plan.

Learn more about the DOE’s efforts regarding commercial buildings.       

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