PNNL project pushes energy efficiency

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plans to help commercial buildings from California to Rhode Island dramatically improve their energy efficiency using federal economic stimulus money.

It is starting work on a three-year project to demonstrate and encourage energy efficiency in commercial buildings from California to Rhode Island, either retrofitting existing structures or designing new structures.

The Department of Energy lab in Richland is part of the Commercial Buildings Partnership, which received $21 million in federal economic stimulus money for the program nationwide.

"The program will enable PNNL to use the knowledge and skills developed over three decades of buildings energy efficiency research to help commercial building owners and operators take advantage of huge opportunities for energy savings," said Michael Baechler, senior buildings program manager at PNNL, in a statement.

When the program was announced in November, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that his goal was to not only improve energy efficiency in selected buildings, but also to show other commercial building operators that cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies exist now that will help lower the operating and energy costs of their buildings.

Commercial buildings account for 18 percent of U.S. energy consumption. But under the partnership, commercial building owners and operators will receive technical expertise to help them significantly reduce energy consumption by making changes that give them reasonable returns on their investments. They must contribute at least 20 percent of the cost.

PNNL will work with Home Depot in California; Grand Valley State University in Michigan; the Army in Fort Bragg, N.C.; U.S. General Services Administration in New England; the U.S. Job Corps in Reno, Nev., and the Smart Grid Development in Kingstown, R.I.

For Home Depot, the team will design and construct an energy-efficient prototype store in California. Each project partner will receive technical assistance valued at between $200,000 and $700,000.

The goal for all projects is to exceed current energy efficiency codes by at least 50 percent for new buildings and 30 percent for existing buildings. Some buildings will use renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to produce as much energy as they consume annually.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado also are working with commercial building owners.