System Retrofit Trends in Commercial Buildings

July 30, 2020

Commercial building retrofits present a prime opportunity to improve building energy efficiency, and numerous industry and policy stakeholders are increasingly pushing for these retrofits to happen. However, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that most commercial building retrofits are actually simple upgrades of individual building components such as equipment or lamp replacements, and these types of improvements are more limited than the potential energy savings that can come from a more system-based approach.

Researchers examined a dataset of 12,000 retrofit projects spanning utility custom retrofit programs, federal government retrofit programs and energy service company retrofits to identify:

  • Whether system retrofits are occuring
  • The most prevalent technologies used
  • The technology’s relationship to energy savings and how these different programs are successful in deploying system retrofits

Types of System Retrofits

Notably, systems retrofits were shown to be relatively uncommon, representing less than 20 percent of total retrofit projects, but were substantially more prevalent in higher energy-saving projects (>20%). Berkeley Lab’s researchers, led by FLEXLAB® Executive Director Cynthia Regnier, found that system retrofits of commercial buildings are critical to achieving aggressive energy-reduction goals in the existing commercial building stock.

The researchers also interviewed a range of stakeholders to identify barriers to incorporating a system-based approach to commercial building retrofits, and they identified a range of key requirements to increase deployment, including:

  • Increased awareness of the energy-savings potential from system retrofits
  • Technology and process improvements to reduce complexity of design, installation and operation
  • In some cases, removal of utility regulatory barriers in incentive programs that require individual measure cost effectiveness which can be incongruent to a system that is cost effective as a whole

This work complements ongoing research to develop system packages of technologies, along with streamlined specifications, measurement and verification guidance and simplified assessment methods to increase energy-efficiency in building and save money for building owners while reducing pollution.

Berkeley Lab staff did the research at the request of DOE’s Building Technologies Office, which guides and advises building owners throughout the country on energy-efficiency and savings improvement programs for buildings, the largest users of energy in the U.S. Read more:

Register here for a webinar presenting the findings of this study on August 12, 2020, 10:00AM PT.