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Energy Department Initiatives Create Opportunities for Efficiency, Innovation

November 30, 2016
By: Jason Rittenberg

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the Zero Energy Districts Accelerator, an initiative to develop best practices for establishing commercial districts that have net-neutral energy consumption. The accelerator is now one of 12 listed under the Better Buildings Initiative, which also includes dedicated programming for community and manufacturing initiatives. DOE’s most recent annual report finds that collectively, Better Buildings programs saved 160 trillion Btus of energy and 2.3 billion gallons of water while collecting more than 400 resources on implementation processes and technologies through 2015.

Better Buildings began in 2011 as a challenge for 60 partners to improve efficiency in building space by 20 percent. As the challenge has doubled the initial commitment to 4.2 billion square feet, Better Buildings has become a brand for a suite of DOE initiatives. Better Buildings Alliance develops technical and market efficiency solutions; Better Buildings, Better Plants is similar to the challenge, but for manufacturers; and, Better Buildings Accelerators targets specific building types or information needs.

These initiatives create efficiency and development opportunities for the innovation community.

First, state and local governments, research centers, educational institutions and other property owners may be able to utilize the efficiency resources and technical assistance to achieve significant savings on energy and water bills. For example, the state of Maryland has achieved 23 percent energy savings and the University of California, Irvine reached 28 percent. Accelerators focused on Data Centers and Smart Labs provide targeted assistance for facilities heavily related to innovation.

Second, any research center, incubator, cluster initiative or other organization working with energy companies or technologies can view the Better Buildings Initiative as a source of potential clients, customer needs, pilot opportunities or technical resources. Each activity area has its own lists of partners, which include corporations and regions seeking to make efficiency improvements, and resources in the Solutions Center. Relevant and new initiatives are described below.

  • Zero Energy Districts Accelerator (factsheet), launched November 2016 – brings together five initial local regions, DOE, National Labs and other partners to develop master plans for districts with net-zero energy use. Initial commitments include a manufacturing zone in Buffalo and the entire downtown of Fresno, CA.
  • Smart Energy Analytics Campaign, launched October 2016 – is a technology-focused initiative to expand the use of management systems in buildings to better control and assess energy systems. Partners already include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, dozens of service providers and efficiency organizations, looking to achieve savings while testing new technologies.
  • Smart Labs Accelerator (factsheet), launched September 2016 – targets efficiency in research labs, which DOE claims can be at least three times more energy-intensive than standard commercial space and consume more than 70 percent of a university’s energy use (the 2016 Better Building Summit included a presentation on lab energy use). Partners to date include several universities (including University of California, Irvine) and national labs, as well as at least one corporation.

Many more initiatives related to specific sectors of the energy efficiency industry are available at the Better Buildings website.

cleantech, federal agency, dept of energy, energy