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Energy Efficiency, Building Power Through Optimization

image credit: Photo 92157915 © Demerzel21 |

Population growth, economic upheaval, electrification, renewable penetration, and extreme weather have increased demand for grid services exponentially.  Buildings alone account for 70% of U.S. electricity use and a comparable share of peak electricity demand.  While these statistics present a daunting challenge, researchers are looking on the bright side.  Could the building sector actually become a promising source of grid services?  The US Department of Energy is offering up to $80m for projects that enhance energy demand flexibility across buildings.  Technologies explored should include, next generation lighting; whole building electric load optimization; advanced and more efficient building construction; improved building retrofit technologies; and workforce development. “By advancing innovative technologies that enhance building design, materials, equipment, and operations, we are building a more resilient energy future,” said deputy secretary Mark W. Menezes. The DOE’s office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy completed research focused on Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs) and explored the benefits and challenges of building-level grid service integration and the gaps in technology, mainly control, sensing and modeling.  A Grid-interactive Efficient Building integrates the flexibility available in its various end uses and in other behind-the-meter resources with energy efficiency to continuously optimize for energy cost, grid needs, and occupant preferences.  Currently, whole-building control and modeling for energy efficiency are not being maximized.  However, many are optimistic that advances in effectiveness, cost, and usability of these technologies will advance GEBs.  This report, completed in December 2019, concluded by recommending further development and support so the $80M offered by the DOE for energy efficiency building projects will certainly help.

If widely adopted, the demand for a skilled workforce will also be required.  In connection with Governor Cuomo's nation-leading climate and energy goals, the City College of New York (CCNY) is partnering with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to implement a permanent energy efficiency workforce development training program for West Harlem Group Assistance, Inc (WHGA). Under the program, CCNY will help train up to 10 long-term training specialists in energy efficiency technology, real-time diagnostic and usage analytics, and performance optimization for all mechanical and engineering systems in use at WHGA's buildings throughout New York City.

With a workforce in place and funding for new technologies, could buildings become an asset to the grid instead of a drain during peak demand?   

Alex Fitzsimmons, deputy assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency concluded, “This suite of technologies will not only unlock deep energy savings in buildings, but also enable buildings to provide innovative services to the grid with which they’re connected, enhancing the resilience of America’s energy system.”  

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