National Labs Help DOE Strive for Zero-Net Energy Commercial Buildings

National Labs Help DOE Strive for Zero-Net Energy Commercial Buildings

With guidance from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), five national laboratories are banding together to help speed development of marketable zero-net energy commercial buildings.

Alexander Karsner, the DOE’s assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, announced the formation of the National Laboratory Collaborative on Building Technologies (NLCBT) in conjunction with the launch of the DOE's Zero-Net Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) yesterday.

The initiative, established by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) that President Bush signed into law in December, calls for all new commercial buildings to be so efficient in energy consumption and in on-site renewable energy generation that they offset any energy use from the grid. The target date for that goal is 2025. The initiative sets a zero-net energy goal for all commercial buildings by 2050.

The mission of the collaborative, a joint project of the DOE’s Building Technologies Program and the five national labs, is to devise a multiyear plan, timetable and strategies for achieving the 2025 goal for new commercial buildings, Karsner said. The team is also expected to help spur the transfer of new technologies from research and development to the marketplace.

The collaborating labs are the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

“This is about galvanizing the leading minds and the leading resources,” Karsner said. “We have no time to lose.”

Recent years have been marked by an “evolutionary understanding of the magnitude of the challenge we face,” said Karsner. “The point of discovery a quarter century ago was not the point of action.”

And for most of the intervening years, “everybody’s failed abysmally” to address the problem, he said.

The Commercial Building Initiative and the collaborative are now “urgently needed to accelerate innovation and market adoption in the field of high performance buildings," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency David Rodgers. “We are bringing to bear the unprecedented collaboration in scientific resources of five National Laboratories to bring about the needed transformation of the built environment.”

Karsner and Rodgers made their announcement in Palo Alto at the California Clean Tech Open, which also served as the backdrop for the first formal meeting of the lab collaborative.

The Open, now in its third year, strives to promote innovative enterprise in clean technology by awarding a "Start-Up in a Box" prize package worth $100,000 to the winner in each of six competition categories. This year’s 44 finalists were on hand yesterday for mentoring and workshop sessions.

At a gathering last night, California Clean Tech Open Executive Director Annette Walker announced that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the collaborative participant from Colorado, is sponsoring the competition in the Green Building category this year. The prize includes $50,000 and in-kind help ranging from free professional services, legal assistance and mentoring to free office space. The six winners of the Open will be announced in November.