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Q&A:The Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings (FLEXLAB)

The Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings (FLEXLAB) is designed to be a national focal point for developing, simulating and testing energy-efficient technologies and strategies for buildings. FLEXLAB users will conduct research and develop technologies at FLEXLAB on single components as well as whole-building integrated design and operation aimed at substantially lowering the energy use, and improving the comfort and performance of both new and existing buildings. FLEXLAB is a facility of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD).

In the following Q&A, Cindy Regnier, FLEXLAB’s manager, discusses FLEXLAB’s capabilities, and how its users will be able to use the facility when it opens.

How is the construction of FLEXLAB going? When will it be ready for users?

Rendering of Berkeley Lab's FLEXLAB

Rendering of Berkeley Lab's FLEXLAB

Construction is going well. At this point, FLEXLAB is on time and on budget, and construction should be complete in early 2014, including the commissioning process. Following that, we will put the facility through a calibration process to determine testbed accuracies, begin testing the data acquisition system and gathering baseline data from its many sensors.

Who do you expect will be the primary users of FLEXLAB when it is completed? And what needs does FLEXLAB address for these users?

The diversity of users is broad—maybe broader than you think. FLEXLAB can address the energy efficiency needs of utilities, federal and state research programs, manufacturers, building owners and the AECO [architecture, engineering, construction and owner-operated] community.

Product manufacturers of almost any type of building product or service are a natural user group for FLEXLAB, which can help extend the impact and market potential of products by developing integrated design solutions—such as automated shading coupled with dimmable lighting systems—that validate performance (for example, visual comfort,) as well as energy savings.

FLEXLAB can also help where they’ve developed emerging technology whose performance isn’t yet recognized in industry—for example, code, or simulation tools—they need verified performance data and a means to extend results to the rest of industry.

We expect to work with the AECO community, too. The developer and AECO community is increasingly being asked to deliver guaranteed performance of building designs, whether for energy performance disclosure laws or for other energy efficiency-related purposes. The community currently only develops mockups for constructability, not verification of energy or comfort performance. Verification of a design’s energy and overall performance in FLEXLAB lowers risk for the construction of the facility, especially where there are unique combinations of low energy systems, or high-risk elements that might affect comfort and performance such as full height glazing.

AECO users will be able to specify and test innovative systems for their designs in one or more of FLEXLAB’s testbeds, and use feedback data from their operation to improve their designs. Building new energy-efficient buildings, or improving the energy performance of existing buildings in an investment portfolio enhances value. The AECO community will develop higher confidence in and reduce financial risk of new innovative design strategies with higher energy efficiency targets. This is a capability that can differentiate the truly innovative AECO firms in the marketplace.

Utilities need verified performance of emerging technologies to increase certainty on their impact on energy use, as well as R&D in emerging areas of energy reduction strategies to meet their energy efficiency programmatic goals, such as whole building integrated system performance.

To read the rest of this Q&A, go here.