Advancing Education for Tomorrow’s Building Technicians

March 1, 2017

The concept of building efficiency is easy enough to grasp: ensure comfort and functionality while using less energy. Making that happen in a given building, however, isn't always straightforward. Achieving low-energy retrofits and good operations require well-trained technicians who know how to interpret building characteristics and energy data, which is why educators are interested in learning about hands-on exercises and tools they can use with students. 

Nearly 40 faculty members from 27 community and technical colleges across the United States were introduced to new tools in January, 2017, at a workshop at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) in the Energy Technologies Area (ETA). This included using FLEXLAB®, the world's most advanced building efficiency test bed.

The daylong visit was part of a four-day annual institute held by the BEST (Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow) Center, which advances education for tomorrow's building technicians in topics including HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning), building operations and energy management.  BEST is funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by Laney College in Oakland. Mary Ann Piette, division director for the Building Technology and Urban Systems division in ETA and the project’s lead, said that this is the third annual event at Berkeley Lab. 

The Institute's theme this year: "Learning by Doing in Building Technician Education: New Technologies, Teaching Strategies, and Lab Applications."

FLEXLAB® Experiment

The evening before the group arrived, each participant was given a data logger to become familiar with its monitoring capabilities. Upon arrival, the group went to FLEXLAB®, where each participant installed a data logger to monitor internal environmental conditions over three hours. Based on data collected by the loggers, the group would analyze these how these conditions changed over time.  After lunch, the data loggers were retrieved from FLEXLAB® to download the data and evaluate what happened in the space. After spending time analyzing the results, they identified when heating came on, when dampers opened and by how much, and when a humidifier kicked in.

Evaluating Energy Saving Options

Also during the workshop, participants were introduced to CBES (Commercial Building Energy Saver), an innovative energy analysis tool from Berkeley Lab, through a structured learning process.

Using the tool, they were able to compare energy use in similar buildings in different parts of the U.S., along with measuring how a building's age can affect its energy use. Many participants indicated they would use this tool on their home campuses and in future classes.

Links with Real World Issues

During lunch, participants were also able to learn about the development of appliance standards and the energy impacts of using the cloud to manage energy services. And then, at the end of a long day, participants were treated to one more talk by Michael Wehner of Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division, about calculations supporting climate change research and the importance of appropriate scale in those calculations. For many participants, this reinforced why they focus on training students to better monitor and control energy use in buildings. Later, Wehner noted that "speakers need attentive audiences and last night's was fully engaged."

The faculty returned to their schools with an enhanced sense of how hands-on activities can boost learning. Nearly every participant said they would add the CBES tool to future lesson plans.

Lunchtime speakers at the event were Alison Williams and Alan Meier. Assisting in FLEXLAB® were Ari Harding and Darryl Dickerhoff. Ted Wilinski of BEST led the afternoon exercise. Kaiyu Sun and Tianzhen Hong ran the CBES session. Janie Page organized the agenda and structure of the day. 




Janie Page; Photo by Larry Chang, BEST Center