Berkeley Lab Hosts Industry for Preview of First Phase of FLEXLAB®, a New Laboratory for Energy-Efficient Buildings

November 16, 2012

Today marks the opening of the first two testbeds of FLEXLAB®, the Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Constructed within an existing building, Berkeley Lab researchers and their partners will study and demonstrate energy-efficient lighting and plug load systems, and collaborate in the design of the next generation of energy-efficient, automatically monitored and controlled buildings.

Researchers in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) are holding a series of workshops today for a broad cross-section of industry, utilities, Department of Energy, state and local governments, manufacturers, and the architectural and engineering design community to learn more about FLEXLAB, which will eventually include four additional testbeds in a new outdoor facility.

"These new testbeds will provide the building industry, and architecture and engineering community with a heavily instrumented facility for developing and validating the performance of new energy-efficient technologies, and developing integrated building system solutions for reducing energy and resource use and maximizing human comfort in buildings," said Cindy Regnier, the Technical Manager of the FLEXLAB facility.

FLEXLAB is a collection of testbeds for studying and demonstrating energy-efficient building systems. The outdoor testbeds will focus on developing technologies and solutions applicable to ultra-low energy designs for new construction and retrofit buildings, in the areas of HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), lighting, shading and facades. The interior testbeds that are opening today are the Lighting and Plug Loads Testbed and the Virtual Design Testbed.

The Lighting and Plug Loads Testbed is a densely instrumented living laboratory that can be used to test real-life office environments, allowing for a wide variety of control strategies ranging from fully automated control, to manual control by occupants.

Users can monitor every change in the power use and lighting conditions of the testbed continuously and in real-time. Every duplex power outlet is individually monitored and can be turned on or off by occupants, or can be programmed for other controls such as by occupancy.

In the Virtual Design Testbed, users will design and optimize advanced energy-efficient buildings in a collaborative setting. Participants who are present in the room, as well as those joining meetings remotely, will put up and modify ideas, share data, and develop designs collaboratively, using state-of-the-art building energy design and simulation tools such as the recently released Simergy tool, which provides a graphical user interface to EnergyPlus. This setting will be used to help develop interoperable software tools used not only for building design, but for commissioning and operations as well.

New Exterior Modules Construction Next

Construction teams will shortly begin building four testbeds outside the building at Berkeley Lab containing the new interior testbeds. FLEXLAB will allow researchers in the Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and its public and private sector research partners, to swap out building components and systems in the modules, and measure, analyze and improve their performance under real conditions (see rendering). FLEXLAB's exterior facility will be completed late in 2013. The six interior and exterior testbeds total over 9,000 square feet of floorspace, and are funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act through the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the new exterior facility, each module will be reconfigurable—depending on the research plan, users will be able replace windows, walls, access floor, lighting, HVAC systems and other elements with prototypes for testing. The interior spaces will be reconfigurable—they can be divided into zones and outfitted as offices.

One testbed can be rotated to different orientations with respect to the sun, to adjust the structure's solar exposure as desired. It can reset its position every 60 seconds to align with solar orientation to measure how sun position impacts energy use and interior conditions.

Another double-height testbed is designed to test technologies designed for two-story high structures, with applications that include big box retail environments. These modules will also test technologies such as skylights and clerestories.

Diverse instrumentation in the testbeds will allow users to remotely monitor and control a wide range of variables from energy use to exterior weather to interior comfort conditions. Occupancy sensors, air-flow and room pressure measurements, lighting and glare, and thermal conditions are among the factors that the facility's instrumentation can monitor.

"To develop the extremely energy-efficient, comfort-maximizing buildings of the future," says Regnier, " building designers and developers are moving toward integrated systems, real-time monitoring of building conditions, and advanced control algorithms that optimize both energy use and interior conditions for maximum comfort.

"In this new facility," she continues, "we will have the fine level of data collection and analysis we need, along with the ability to adjust and configure every aspect of the test spaces to develop, field-test and prove out new technologies, as well as to solve fundamental problems in design and operations that we need to move with the building industry to a new level of consistent energy savings."

The preview event today signals the expansion of Berkeley Lab's engagement with potential public and private users of the facility. As construction of the four outdoor testbeds proceeds, Berkeley Lab staff will be completing development of the research plans and partnership contracts that will enable the facility to be used beginning late in 2013.

Total ARRA funding is $15.7 million. Stantec Architecture is the architect of record, with mechanical and electrical engineering by Integral Group and structural engineering by Tipping Mar.


Allan Chen