New technologies aim to make buildings more efficient

New technologies aim to make buildings more efficient

What do LEDs, high-efficiency washers and dryers, and smart thermostats have in common? All were developed with help from researchers at U.S. national laboratories.

But these energy efficiency innovations didn’t reach homeowners and building developers overnight. Each technology took time to develop, test and gain external validation from industry, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And, since they’ve entered the marketplace, consumers have used less energy in their homes and buildings and saved money on their energy bills.

Innovations like these in building energy efficiency are critical to providing Americans cost-effective and energy-saving solutions. But to move these technologies out of the national labs, researchers need to develop viable market pathways for their innovations.

That’s where the Energy Department’s Energy I-Corps training comes in. With the industry engagement and customer discovery skills they developed through Energy I-Corps, national lab researchers are getting three more energy efficiency technologies ready for market evaluation.

Here’s a look:


Imagine a removable air conditioner (AC) like current window units, but one that is more energy efficient, doesn’t block the window, doesn’t make as much noise and installs in just minutes. Then check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) EcoSnap technology, a new AC unit consumers can install on any outside-facing wall.

NREL engineers Chuck Booten and Jon Winkler came up with the idea for a simple snap together AC unit four years ago. Since then, the pair has been testing their idea, but also with potential customers and industry leaders through Energy I-Corps. In addition to a 2016 R&D 100 Award win, the technology has gained industry interest. Late last year, a venture capital and business development firm focused on advanced clean energy technologies entered into an agreement with NREL to further prepare this technology for market evaluation. With this new partnership, EcoSnap is closer than ever to being in homes across the country.


Buildings big and small experience uncontrolled air leaks. Whether it’s going out or coming in, the cost of unwanted air adds up on a consumer’s energy bill. In fact, it’s estimated that this leakage accounts for nearly 4 percent of all energy use in the United States.

Sealing leaks can pay off, but finding them is tricky. Current detection methods are used only after construction is complete and aren’t affordable for large buildings. This leaves many commercial properties subject to energy losses with no real solution.

Argonne National Laboratory’s (ANL’s) Sonic Leak Quantifier (SonicLQ) takes a new approach to locating and quantifying air leaks — one that works for buildings of all sizes and while the property is still under construction.

 What’s SonicLQ’s secret? Sound waves. Through a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ANL will be demonstrating and testing its innovative technology on a military base this year and next. If the test is successful, SonicLQ will be a proven alternative to conventional, less-efficient detection methods and closer to helping building owners stop air leaks and save energy.


Determining the right mix of energy efficiency upgrades to make to an existing building can be challenging. Whether it’s upgrading lighting systems, replacing HVAC equipment, or adding insulation, contractors rely on building energy modeling (i.e., computer simulations of energy performance) to identify cost-effective upgrade opportunities and make design and product selections.

To support accurate decision-making, energy simulations require accurate building descriptions. While some aspects of a building, like location, floor area, window area, HVAC system and fuel type, are easy to characterize, others such as wall insulation levels, envelope leakage rate and HVAC component efficiency, are more difficult.

Inputs that are difficult to obtain physically are usually calibrated using measured data. More simply, combinations of different values are tested until simulation results match utility bills. Traditional, manual calibration is time consuming and not very accurate.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) Autotune software makes calibration simple, automated and more accurate. Through two field case studies and industry engagement during Energy I-Corps, Autotune’s developers found that the technology surpassed the industry’s calibration accuracy standards, while eliminating about 45 hours of manual calibration effort per building. They also launched Tunation LLC, a startup to bring this national lab-developed software to market.

The field test results and the industry contacts made during Energy I-Corps give Tunation the credibility and connections needed to make automated calibration more widely available in the coming year.

Energy I-Corps is administered by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Technology-to-Market program with support provided by EERE’s Building Technologies Office for national lab teams focused on energy efficiency and building technologies. 




Topics: Architectural Firms, Associations / Organizations, Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Saving Products, Engineering Firms, Exteriors, Great Commercial Buildings, Healthy & Comfortable Buildings, HVAC - Heating, Cooling, and Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Multifamily / Multiunit Residential, Office Buildings, Sustainable Communities, Technology, Urban Planning and Design

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy

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