Beyond Widgets

The Challenge: Component upgrades are commonplace, and miss deeper energy savings opportunities

Current utility incentive programs for energy efficiency aim largely at components such as lightbulbs and air conditioner units. This widget-based approach misses the deeper savings possible with systems-level upgrades. Integrated lighting, HVAC and façade solutions, for example, can be designed to operate at higher overall efficiencies, maximizing energy savings across multiple end-use systems. A highly integrated, whole-building retrofit can deliver up to 80% energy savings, compared with about 30% for a components-based approach1.

Why, then, aren't these integrated systems more prevalent? Implementing such retrofits can be complex and disruptive, but they also require more rigorous assessment through modeling in order to identify effective systems strategies. The added costs and complexity of this process makes them difficult to scale through utility incentive programs. At the same time, many building operators remain unaware of how much energy some integrated building systems can save.

The Solution: FLEXLAB®

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's FLEXLAB® facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) collaborated with utilities to develop and validate options for systems-level incentive programs. They evaluated three sets of technology packages in real-world conditions at FLEXLAB's highly instrumented test facilities. Recognizing many utility customers start with looking for savings with LED lamp replacements, the three sets focused on a system package that incorporated lighting strategies, each integrated with another building system or element. The results provided utilities and their customers with the information, tools and proven savings data needed to implement systems-level projects, avoiding the cost and complexity of custom solutions. Streamlining the adoption of these technologies can deliver large, sector-wide energy savings.

The Bottom Line: Utility Incentive Programs Can Be Designed to Result in Deep Energy Efficiency Savings

The opportunity for increased energy savings through adoption of integrated buildings systems is clear. Meanwhile, with increasingly stringent energy codes, the number of cost-effective component-based solutions that achieve significant savings is dwindling. The test data provided by FLEXLAB enabled the development of new simplified methods for utilities to evaluate and promote integrated systems, while ensuring visual comfort and achieving new levels of energy savings with known levels of accuracy. With test chambers that enable highly granular thermal, visual and power data measurements in a real-world setting, FLEXLAB fosters insights that can ultimately help homes, schools, and businesses. 


Download the full case study here: Beyond Widgets

1Regnier, C., T. Hong, K. Sun, M.A. Piette. 2017. Quantifying the benefits of a building retrofit using an integrated system approach: A case study. Energy and Buildings 159, 332–345.​

"Thanks to the capabilities of FLEXLAB, we were able to quickly and accurately assess the benefits associated with an integrated systems approach."
Andrew Quirk, Xcel Energy, Team Lead - Customer Solutions